By Alan Carasso
Favored at 8-5 to build on a two-length victory in the GIII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby three weeks ago, Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable's 'TDN Rising Star' Tapit Trice (Tapit) was made to work for it by a worthy adversary in the form of Verifying (Justify), but at the end of nine entertaining furlongs, they gray colt–picked up for $1.3 million just down the hill from the racing oval at the Keeneland sales pavilion some 19 months ago–outgamed last year's GI Champagne S. runner-up by a neck in Saturday's GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland. It was a 5 3/4-length gap back to Champagne winner Blazing Sevens (Good Magic) in third.
It was an especially satisfying victory for Whisper Hill Farm's Mandy Pope, who has invested countless millions in this business in an effort to be involved with a horse of the caliber of Tapit Trice. Her ticket to the GI Kentucky Derby having been secured, Pope was at a bit of a loss and introspective when interviewed by Scott Hazelton on the turf course following her colt's gritty success.
“It's unbelievable for me. It's dreams come true and a lot of hard work from a lot of people,” she said. “It's the determination that quality does pay off and quality is worth all the effort.”
Pope continued, “From pedigree to the physical to the trainers to the barn crew at each of our farms who raise the horses and break them–they're all quality people and it's a quality effort. Hopefully quality continues up the road.”
A notoriously slow-starting horse, Tapit Trice was under a hustling ride early from gate one by Luis Saez Saturday, as connections were dead set on securing as forward a position as possible. Mid-division into the turn as 86-1 chance Clear the Air (Ransom the Moon) dictated terms in advance of Verifying, Tapit Trice was guided into the clear and out of harm's way some four or five paths off the inside rail, then was asked to improve his position with still better than five furlongs to race. Trapped out four deep nearing the entrance to the second turn, Tapit Trice was asked for yet more run by Saez leaving the three-eighths marker and was busily ridden, but nevertheless began to come into the race and the battle was joined. Floated into about the four path by Verifying in upper stretch, the pair raced stride for stride into the final eighth of a mile, neither giving an inch, but Tapit Trice just began to gain the upper hand with about 70 yards to come and proved a deserving winner. Verifying's jockey Tyler Gaffalione alleged interference inside the final furlong, but stewards ultimately allowed the result to stand.
“He didn't jump well, but then he gained a little momentum,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, winning the Blue Grass for a record fourth time, breaking a tie with Ben Jones, Woody Stephens, LeRoy Jolley and Nick Zito. “It got a little hairy going into the first turn, but when he was able to secure that spot, Luis was able to take him out in the clear down the backside. That was the position we hoped to get into, and once he got into that stride I thought we were in good shape.”
Added Saez, who was aboard multiple champion Essential Quality (Tapit) in a similarly tight finish in 2021: “We had a tough [post] position, especially with him, because he takes a little while to get going. In the first turn we had an opportunity to put him in the clear. I made a little move early, because the pace was pretty slow, so I could get behind the horse we were supposed to beat. I know we have to beat everybody, but that was the horse [Verifying] to follow, so we were right there, and when he made his move we were right on top of him.”
A debut second over Aqueduct's one-turn mile Nov. 6, Tapit Trice defeated future GIII Gotham S. runner-up Slip Mahoney (Arrogate) in the slop Dec. 17 and tacked on an eight-length allowance victory at Gulfstream Feb. 4, securing 'Rising Star' honors. Clearly last away from the machine in Oldsmar last time, he raced with only a couple of rivals behind down the backstretch on that occasion and it all looked like a lost cause before he exploded through the final quarter mile to best Classic Car Wash (Noble Bird) by a two-length margin few would have thought possible turning for home.
Tapit Trice is the 31st worldwide Grade I/Group 1 winner for Tapit and is the second top-level scorer out of a daughter of Unbridled's Song's son Dunkirk, joining Chilean G1SW Keltoi (Chi). The cross of Tapit over Unbridled's Song is responsible for two-time champion Unique Bella.
A $5,500 Keeneland November weanling and $10,000 Fasig-Tipton October yearling, Tapit Trice's dam Danzatrice cost Gainesway $105,000 at the 2014 OBS April Sale, and the filly more than earned her keep, winning three times in stakes company and placing third in the GIII Groupie Doll S., closing her career with better than $312,000 in earnings. Closely related to champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk (Cross Traffic), Danzatrice is the dam of a 2-year-old full-sister to Tapit Trice that Pope purchased for $1.1 million at last year's Keeneland September sale as well as a yearling full-sister. Unsurprisingly, the mare was covered by Tapit once again last year.
TOYOTA BLUE GRASS S.-GI, $998,125, Keeneland, 4-8, 3yo,
1 1/8m, 1:50.00, ft.
1–TAPIT TRICE, 123, c, 3, by Tapit
1st Dam: Danzatrice (MSW & GSP, $312,145), by Dunkirk
2nd Dam: Lady Pewitt, by Orientate
3rd Dam: Spin Room, by Spinning World
1ST GRADE I WIN. ($1,300,000 Ylg '21 KEESEP). O-Whisper Hill
Farm, LLC and Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck); B-Gainesway
Thoroughbreds Ltd. (KY); T-Todd A. Pletcher; J-Luis Saez.
$573,500. Lifetime Record: 5-4-0-1, $883,650. Werk Nick
Rating: A. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree. Click
for the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Verifying, 123, c, 3, Justify–Diva Delite, by Repent.
($775,000 Ylg '21 KEESEP). O-Westerberg, Mrs. John Magnier,
Jonathan Poulin, Derrick Smith and Michael B. Tabor; B-Hunter
Valley & Mountmellick Farm, LLC (KY); T-Brad H. Cox.
3–Blazing Sevens, 123, c, 3, Good Magic–Trophy Girl, by
Warrior's Reward. ($140,000 Ylg '21 KEEJAN; $225,000 Ylg '21
FTSAUG). O-Rodeo Creek Racing, LLC; B-Tracy Farmer (KY);
T-Chad C. Brown. $92,500.
Margins: NK, 5 3/4, HF. Odds: 1.64, 2.35, 6.18.
Also Ran: Sun Thunder, Raise Cain, Mendelssohns March,
Hayes Strike, Classic Car Wash, Scoobie Quando, Major Blue,
Clear the Air.
Click for the Equibase.com chart and the TJCIS.com PPs.
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