Tapit Trice Tries Two Turns In Tampa Bay Derby

Tapit Trice | Lauren King

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Trainer Todd Pletcher has unsaddled the winner of the GIII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby a record five times–no one else has more than two to their credit–and he stands a fair chance to make it a half-dozen Saturday afternoon when he sends out the two favorites on the morning line.

Pegged at odds of 8-5 is Whisper Hill Farm's 'TDN Rising Star' Tapit Trice (Tapit), who will attempt to provide his sire with a fourth winner of the race since in its last 10 runnings (Ring Weekend, 2014; the Pletcher-conditioned Tapwrit, 2017; and Tacitus, 2019). A $1.3-million Keeneland September yearling, the gray colt has made each of his three career starts to date over a one-turn mile, and he could scarcely have been more impressive in running away from his surprisingly preferred stablemate Shesterkin (Violence) by some eight lengths in a Feb. 4 Gulfstream allowance.

“He's a colt we've had high hopes for all along,” said Pletcher following that test. “The exciting thing about him is the further he goes, the better he'll get.”

Should those words prove correct, they'll all be running for minor awards, as Tapit Trice owns the two best Beyer Speed Figures in the field, including a 92 last time that towers over his rivals.

Shesterkin is also a candidate to appreciate extra real estate, as his dam Freedom Star (Street Cry {Ire}) was a five-time winner at a distance of ground, including the 2010 GIII Azeri S.

While GIII Sam F. Davis S. hero Litigate (Blame) is passing on a return to Oldsmar in favor of the GII Louisiana Derby in two weeks' time, those that finished behind him that day are not without their chances. Groveland (Street Sense) rallied up the rail after encountering a bit of traffic to round out the Davis exacta ahead of Classic Car Wash (Noble Bird), who came from far back to photo the comebacking Classic Legacy (Into Mischief) out of third. The latter, a homebred half-brother to MGISW Art Collector (Bernardini), is intriguing at a price with a race under his belt.

'Justify'-able Optimism In Florida Oaks

The Pletcher barn also has claims in the afternoon's co-featured event, the GIII Florida Oaks. Don Alberto's Alpha Bella (Justify) graduated in her first start on the turf down at Gulfstream Dec. 11 and was relegated to second last time behind a rabbit-out-of-the-hat victory by her stablemate Cairo Consort (Cairo Prince) in the GIII Sweetest Chant S. three races after Tapit Trice's romp. Alpha Bella is a half-sister to Andina del Sur (Giant's Causeway), who caused a 13-1 upset in this race for trainer Tom Albertrani in 2018 after finishing third in the Sweetest Chant.

Chad Brown has won the last two runnings of the Oaks and three overall and is represented by Klaravich Stables' morning-line favorite Free Look (Tapit), runner-up in the GII Miss Grillo S. at Aqueduct ahead of an even fifth in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November.

Tampa also stages the 3-year-old turf colts' counterpart, the Columbia S., the GII Hillsborough S. and the GIII Challenger S.

Azeri Lures A Pair Of Top-Level Winners

Saturday's GII Azeri S., a final course-and-distance prep for next month's GI Apple Blossom H., has attracted a cracking field of eight dirt distaffers, led by returning Grade I winners Clairiere (Curlin) and Secret Oath (Arrogate).

Save for an off day when down the field in last year's GI Personal Ensign S., Stonestreet Stables' Clairiere was a model of consistency in 2022, with a record of 3-1-1 from her five other runs, including a thrilling defeat of champion Malathaat (Curlin) in the GI Ogden Phipps S. in June. The homebred took down that one's colors yet again in the GII Shuvee S. the following month, but had to settle for third to Malathaat in a memorable renewal of the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Reigning GI Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath is perfect in three starts against her own sex over the Oaklawn main track, having annexed the Martha Washington S. and GIII Honeybee S. ahead of a third in the GI Arkansas Derby. The chestnut was soundly defeated by Eclipse Award winner Nest (Curlin) in the GI CCA Oaks and GI Alabama S. and led into the final eighth of a mile in the Distaff before weakening into fifth.

Interstatedaydream (Classic Empire) won last year's GII Black-Eyed Susan S. and GIII Indiana Oaks, but makes her first start since being upset in the Aug. 23 Cathryn Sophia S. at Parx.

Fun To Dream Goes For Five Straight In Beholder

Cal-bred Fun to Dream (Arrogate) is a deserving favorite heading into Saturday's GI Beholder Mile S. at Santa Anita, but has some questions to answer in what is clearly her stiffest test to date. An allowance winner in her only effort going long last October, she stretches out off three consecutive scores at seven furlongs, having bested the reopposing Awake At Midnyte (Nyquist) in the GI La Brea S. Dec. 26 and GII Santa Monica S. Feb. 4.

Standing in her way is Stonestreet's Pauline's Pearl (Tapit), already proven at the Grade I level after upsetting Shedaresthedevil (Daredevil) in the La Troienne S. last May. The gray resumed from a near seven-month absence with a smooth success in the GIII Houston Ladies' Classic Jan. 28.

A Mo Reay (Uncle Mo) is unbeaten in two starts since being purchased for $400,000 at Fasig-Tipton November and swerves the Azeri despite winning Oaklawn's GIII Bayakoa S. Feb. 4.

Forbidden Kingdom (American Pharoah) looms the one to beat in Saturday's GIII San Carlos S. at the Great Race Place, while 'TDN Rising Star' Frank's Rockette (Into Mischief) looks a handful in the GIII Hurricane Bertie S. at Gulfstream.

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