By Bill Finley
Even back when Tap It to Win (Tapit) lost the GI Clairborne Breeders’ Futurity by 43 1/2 lengths and the Street Sense S. by 21 1/4 lengths, Mark Casse was telling owner Charlotte Weber and anyone else who would listen that the horse was special. On Saturday, the trainer could be proven right. After some twists and turns in his 2-year-old year, Tap It to Win has won his only two starts this year and doesn’t look to be in over his head in Saturday’s GI Belmont S., this year’s first leg of the Triple Crown.
“We have a legitimate chance,” said Casse, who is seeking his third straight win in the Triple Crown series.
Tap It to Win broke his maiden last year at Saratoga in his second career start and Casse started thinking GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The problem was that he didn’t have a lot of time to work with and Casse feared that might catch up to him. He wasn’t ready for what he faced in the Breeders’ Futurity.
“It was just too much for him to handle,” Casse said. “He misbehaved coming away from the gate. He ran off. He just did everything wrong. And so I just knew it was too bad to be true.”
The Street Sense was another misadventure. Tap It to Win hit himself on the ankle coming out of the gate, which led to an injury called a sequestrum, which required surgery to remove a piece of dead bone.
“He could hardly walk for a couple of weeks,” Casse said.
That was in the fall of last year and Casse had no designs on making the Triple Crown events. Tap It to Win still isn’t nominated for the Triple Crown and had to be supplemented into the Belmont at a cost of $15,000.
The colt’s rehab went as well as could be expected and Casse had him ready for a May 9 allowance race against fellow Florida-breds at Gulfstream.
“When we sent him to run at Gulfstream, I called Tyler (Gaffalione) and told him you are going to ride a different horse today,” Casse said. “I told him that I’d be surprised if this horse gets beat.”
Tap it to Win won that day by 1 1/2 lengths and resurfaced at Belmont for a June 4 allowance. With John Velazquez aboard, he ran the best race of his career, leading every step of the way on his way to a five-length win. His 97 Beyer figures makes him very competitive in the Belmont.
“That was an extremely tough allowance race the other day,” Casse said. “I was amazed and Johnny was amazed that he could run as fast as he did and keep going. Johnny said after the race that he galloped out very strong. That John has so much confidence in him gives me even more confidence.”
After the allowance race, Casse’s first thought was that he would go next in the GI Woody Stephens S. at seven furlongs. But the Belmont lost a couple of top contenders due to injury and with his horse thriving, the trainer decided to give the horse a shot in the Grade I, $1-million event. Casse doesn’t know if he will win or not, but he’s certain that Tap It to Win will be the one to catch. He drew the one post and showed exceptional early speed in his last start.
“It didn’t matter what post position he was in, he was going to come out of there running,” Casse said. “He showed the other day he can run fast and keep running, so we are not going to change any tactics with him.”
Win or lose Saturday, the development of Tap It to Win has been something Casse isn’t taking for granted. He went from a horse that the trainer thought could win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to one who looked to be in way over his head in stakes company and wasn’t even nominated to the Triple Crown. Now, he is 6-1 on the morning line in a Triple Crown race.
“It’s been very gratifying,” he said. “Mrs. Weber means the world to me and she bred this horse. I’ve always told her he was special. It’s crazy how things work out sometimes. If it wasn’t for what’s going on in the world there’s no way he’d be in the position he is. We never would have made the Kentucky Derby and if the Belmont weren’t at a mile and an eighth instead of a mile and a half we never would have run in it. Everything worked out for him.”
They also worked out for Casse, who is in a unique position. He won last year’s GI Preakness S. with War of Will (War Front), which was his first win in the Triple Crown series. Three weeks later, he struck again, winning the Belmont with Sir Winston (Awesome Again). In this most unusual year for the Triple Crown, he’s back with another contender and a chance to win three in a row.
“I hadn’t even really thought about that until recently,” he said. “A couple of people have brought it up. Yes, it’s special. Any time you can win a classic it is special. I am very proud to have won two of them. To win three would be almost unthinkable. I think we have a legitimate chance to do that.”
Casse will find out Saturday just how good this horse is. If he turns out to be everything his trainer always thought he could be, he just might end up in the winner’s circle.