By Mike Kane
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.–Credit owner Richard Bahde with nailing the description of Taxed's (Collected) climb from modest beginnings to a start Saturday in the historic GI Alabama S. at Saratoga Race Course.
“It is a Cinderella story. It's something that doesn't happen very often,” Bahde said. “I'm sure that over time there have been $50,000 claiming horses that have gone on to win graded stakes races, but there's just not that many.”
Veteran trainer Randy Morse claimed the gray filly for Bahde at Churchill Downs on Nov. 20 in her third career start and first in claiming company. She won that race, has since won the GII Black-Eyed Susan and has placed second in a pair of GIII starts.
“When we talked about possibly claiming her, we did a lot of research, of course, looked at her previous two races and just felt like there was something there,” Bahde said. “As it turned out, there was really something there.”
In the 1 1/4 miles $600,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies, Taxed will reconnect with a pair of familiar foes: the Godolphin homebred Wet Paint (Blame) and Katsumi Yoshida's Defining Purpose (Cross Traffic).
“Pretty Ironic,” Morse said. “Go all the way to New York and go look at the same horses I was running against all winter at Oaklawn Park.”
Taxed was fourth in Defining Purpose's victory in the Year's End Stakes on Dec. 31, then second to Wet Paint and three-quarters of a length ahead of Defining Purpose in the Martha Washington S. on Jan. 28. Wet Paint won the GIII Honeybee on Feb. 25 with Defining Purpose sixth and Taxed ninth after pressing the pace from her outside post.
Morse watched Taxed fade in the stretch and figured it was time to make a change with the oh-so determined, sometimes rank filly.
“She was just always on the bit too much,” he said.
When Morse suggested to Bahde that they take the blinkers off for the GIII Fantasy on April 1, the Omaha, Neb. resident resisted an experiment in a $600,000 stake.
“I was a little reluctant, quite honestly,” Bahde said. “He said that we've got one last breeze before the Fantasy, let's take those blinkers off for the breeze and see what happens. We did and [jockey Rafael] Bejarano was over the moon. He said, 'What a change. What a change. This horse was far more relaxed and finished so strong.' It was decided right then and there that the blinkers were coming off. She's run, just terrific every race since the blinkers came off.”
“She wants to get into the bit, but she's learned to rate and wait for the signal to go and then she's just full of run. It was a great move by Randy. And I know it's made a big difference.”
Although Wet Paint prevailed in the Fantasy, beating Taxed by 2 1/2 lengths, Morse said that the equipment change has helped transform the filly into a more balanced athlete.
“She's a different horse than she was at Oaklawn, I can tell you that,” he said. “She's, bigger, stronger. She's just mature. She seems like she knows her job now, a lot more so than she did back then.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek took Defining Purpose back to Kentucky where she won Keeneland's GI Ashland by a half-length. She was a well-beaten seventh in the GI Kentucky Oaks on May 5. Wet Paint went straight to the Kentucky Oaks, where she was fourth as the favorite. Taxed tied in points with champion Wonder Wheel for the final berth in the Oaks field, but lost the tie-breaker on earnings and landed on the Oaks also-eligible list. Unlike the Derby, the field stayed intact and she did not draw in.
Two weeks later at Pimlico, Taxed turned in a textbook performance to win the GII Black-Eyed Susan by 3 3/4 lengths over Hoosier Philly. Morse said it was the best race of her career.
After considering the GI Coaching Club American Oaks on July 22 at Saratoga, Morse and Bahde settled on the GIII Indiana Oaks on July 8 at Indiana Grand–an easy ship from Churchill Downs–for Taxed's first start of the summer. She drew the rail in the field of seven and at the end of a frustrating trip under Bejarano was second to Defining Purpose by 1 1/4 lengths.
“She didn't break good and she got boxed in behind horses with a slow pace,” Morse said. “I'm not saying she would have won, but I think if he if he could have got her out it would have been a lot closer race. Put it that way. If you watch the replay, he was trying to get outside. He couldn't even do that. He was just struck.”
By the time Taxed as able to make her run, Defining Purpose and Brian Hernandez Jr. had a safe advantage.
The Black-Eyed Susan at 1 1/8 miles was the longest race of Taxed's career and Morse figures the extra furlong on Saturday is within her range.
“I don't think it'll be a problem. You never know till they do it,” he said. “That's the way she's been training. Her works, she just gallops out strong. She'll never seem to get tired.”
Bejarano will be aboard for the Alabama. Taxed shipped from Kentucky to Saratoga Sunday night.
Bahde has been involved in racing for better than 20 years and he graduated from Nebraska bullrings to major U.S. tracks with Morse handling his stock. The Black-Eyed Susan was his first graded stakes victory. The Alabama will be his first start in a Grade I race anywhere.
Ten years ago, Bahde's Kid Sidney (Lemon Drop Kid) was third in each of his three starts at Saratoga. In recent years, Bahde has sold his beer distribution business and spends his free time managing a small racing stable and some breeding stock. Taxed is taking him back to Saratoga for one of the Spa's marquee events late on a Saturday afternoon in August.
“These are very exciting times,” he said. “You never expect to have a horse this talented, that just seems to be getting better.
“You can't even dream of this when you race sort of in my world, which isn't high-level racing. I don't spend a lot of money at auctions for horses. I try to do it on a budget and to be able to land with a horse like Taxed is really a dream come true.”