Apr 7, 2019
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Tacitus emerges from G2 Wood Memorial triumph in good order

by NYRA Press Office

  • Tax to return in Kentucky Derby following runner-up Wood Memorial effort
  • G2 Wood Memorial third-place finisher Haikal likely for Kentucky Derby
  • Pletcher barn in fine form following successful Wood Memorial Day
  • Mind Control still on target for G1 Woody Stephens following Bay Shore victory
  • Brisset keeping options open for Positive Spirit
  • NYRA Cross Country Pick 5 returns $8,228.75

The Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets winner Tacitus was no worse for wear the morning after his triumphant run in the final Kentucky Derby qualifier at Aqueduct Racetrack.

On the first Saturday in May, Tacitus will seek to give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owner Juddmonte Farms their first victory in the "Run for the Roses."

Tacitus managed to overcome an unfavorable trip in the early stages of the Wood, when jockey Jose Ortiz was forced to check during the first turn of the race.

"He came out of it very well," said Mott's assistant Leana Willaford. "He was a little tired, but that's to be expected. It's nice to see him overcome [an unfavorable trip]. He'll go back to the track here in three days and we'll train him lightly and send him over there when Bill gets to Churchill."

The son of Tapit, out of 2014 Champion Older Filly Close Hatches, picked up 100 points toward the Derby with Saturday's victory and is currently atop the leaderboard with 150 points. He garnered 50 points with his stakes debut in last month's Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.

Willaford noted the conformational improvement that Tacitus, who debuted at Belmont in October and graduated in November at the Big A, has made over time.

"He was down here from July until he broke his maiden and he's changed a lot from July," Willaford said. "Then to not see him over the course of the winter, he's matured a ton. He's definitely filling out. He still has some more growing to do, he's only three. He's a big old horse."

Willaford recalled having worked with Close Hatches.

"I used to get on that mare all the time," Willaford said. "She was more amped up than Tacitus. He's actually really laid back. She was a little bit more of a handful."

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Tax to return in Kentucky Derby following runner-up Wood Memorial effort

Tax came out of his runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets in good order and remains on track for a potential start in the 'Run for the Roses' next month, trainer Danny Gargan said Sunday morning.

The Arch gelding, owned by R.A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable, earned 40 points after running 1 ¼ lengths behind Tacitus in the Wood's 95th edition. Tax has 52 points on the Derby leaderboard, the 12th-highest total, and has never finished off the board in five career starts, posting a 2-2-1 record.

Tax ended his sophomore campaign running second to Maximus Mischief in the Grade 2 Remsen on December 1 and edged Not That Brady by a head to win the Grade 3 Withers [earning 10 points] on February 2 at Aqueduct. With three straight races at 1 1/8 miles, Gargan said his charge has improved and matured as he got older.

"Everything was good this morning," Gargan said. "I thought he ran a tremendous race and can move forward off that effort. His last three races, he's improved tremendously. He learned a lot in the Remsen and then he moved forward in the Withers. We gave him almost nine weeks between those races, and yesterday, he showed up.

"He got a little tired and got pushed down on the rail late, which was a little dead. But it was his first race in a while. I think we're set to move forward off this now. The goal all along was the Derby. That's why we passed on the Gotham. It was a [risk] to only run twice because with these point systems, you have to run well every time if you aren't running [often]. We were lucky enough to win one prep and do well in another. To pass on a race in between, it was a gamble, but it's going to pay off in the long run."

Tax, under jockey Junior Alvarado, bested potential Derby contender Haikal by 2 ¾ lengths. He earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort. With a Classic field without a clear-cut favorite, Gargan said the potential is there for a slew of talented 3-year-olds to make an impact.

"He breaks good out of the gate. If he breaks good, he can sit forwardly placed. He can also sit in the middle of the pack, he's a cool horse that way," Gargan said. "If everything goes as planned and we get to the Derby, we have a chance. His numbers line him up with anyone. As of now, there doesn't seem to be any Justify in there or any monsters. No one has really been better than anyone else yet. So, we're just hoping to get blessed and get a good trip."

Gargan said Peter Callahan's Sir Ballantine, who finished sixth in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, will drop down in class for his next start.

Sir Ballantine made his stakes debut in his 21st career start in the seven-furlong Carter, but Gargan said he was surprised by the slower early fractions of 23.61 seconds for the quarter-mile and the half in 46.71. Sir Ballantine, off at 35-1, stayed off the pace, chased and tired late.

"I was expecting them to go 44-in-change and they didn't do it," Gargan said of the Carter's pace. "He's a nice horse. We'll just go back to allowance competition. I figured it was going to be a really fast pace [yesterday], but Jason Servis' horse [World of Trouble, the winner] ran really well rated. They went slower [fractions] than I expected. It didn't work out that way, so we'll put him back in an allowance, that's where he belongs. We just gave him a chance to see if he could go at the next level, but it didn't work out for him."

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G2 Wood Memorial third-place finisher Haikal likely for Kentucky Derby

Following a late-closing third-place effort in the Wood Memorial, Shadwell Stable's Haikal will more than likely ship to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby for his next start, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

The sophomore son of Daaher was placed at the back of the pack toward the rail and was asked by jockey Rajiv Maragh coming around the far turn. He found top gear nearing the eighth pole and made up considerable ground to finish third, beaten by four lengths.

Haikal earned 20 points after Saturday's effort, his first start since the Grade 3 Gotham win on March 9 over the Big A main track where he earned 50 points. He is currently seventh on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

"He came out of the race in good shape," McLaughlin said. "I still have to talk to [Shadwell Farms' Racing Manager] Rick Nichols. I think [we'll point to the Derby] we've been texting back and forth, but I just want to talk to him and make sure. I would assume we're pointing that way. He ran very well, he finished the fastest last quarter and we just needed another furlong."

Haikal's sire, Daaher, was a Grade 1 winner over one mile when he took Aqueduct's Cigar Mile in 2008, but McLaughlin said Haikal appears to be a horse that will appreciate some added distance.

"That's his sire, you can't really go by that," McLaughlin said. "He's a really neat horse and he can go all day. He came out of the race in good shape and ran very well. All systems are go."

All five of Haikal's career starts have taken place at the Big A. After a second-out maiden win on December 15, he won the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on February 9 before taking the Gotham.

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Pletcher barn in fine form following successful Wood Memorial Day

Following graded stakes victories on Saturday with Life's a Parlay in the Grade 3 Excelsior and Always Shopping in the Grade 2 Gazelle, conditioner Todd Pletcher was in good spirits Sunday morning in his Belmont Park office.

Pletcher also picked up a third-place finish with Off Topic in the Gazelle and saddled graded stakes winner Vino Rosso, who ran fourth in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap. His sophomores, Outshine and Overdeliver, finished tenth and eleventh respectively in the Wood Memorial, following troubled trips.

"Everybody seemed to come back fine," said Pletcher. "Outshine and Overdeliver picked up some minor scrapes from the contact going into the first turn, but they are essentially good."

Life's a Parlay picked up his first graded stakes win in his second start of the year following an optional-claiming victory on March 16 at Oaklawn Park. Pletcher said he was impressed with how the 4-year-old handled shipping from Pletcher's winter base at Palm Beach Downs in Florida to Oaklawn and New York in a span of four weeks.

"I thought that was a really good effort from him," said Pletcher. "I was a little concerned heading in because we threw a lot at him in a short period of time. He first shipped from Florida to Oaklawn, then Oaklawn back to Florida, and Florida up to here. We decided to run here because we felt he came out of that Oaklawn race in good order. He breezed well heading into this spot so I'm glad it worked out."

Always Shopping earned 100 points towards a start in the Kentucky Oaks with her impressive victory. Pletcher said he was pleased with Always Shopping's performance, which showed a new dimension.

"She was able to adapt to a different style which is encouraging", said Pletcher. "She was a little bit closer and I thought that was the difference in her being able to win. I was proud of her."

Pletcher said he would look to regroup with Vino Rosso and that he wasn't discouraged with his effort when cutting back to seven furlongs.

"You don't really think of the Carter in going almost 47 [seconds] for the half," said Pletcher. "Usually, it's a kind of race you'd expect sprinter fractions and that unfortunately compromised his chances quite a bit. Despite that, I thought he ran well.

"The last eighth of a mile he was closing heading to the wire, but we needed a fast pace and he didn't get it," continued Pletcher. "He may be a little better going a mile to a mile and eighth but with the right circumstances I think he can also compete going seven [furlongs].

Coal Front, who captured the Group 2 Godolphin Mile in Dubai on March 31 for owners Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, is scheduled to return to the United States this afternoon.

Pletcher said the 5-year-old son of Stay Thirsty will enjoy a brief respite at WinStar Farm before pointing towards the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day, June 8.

"I would say the Met Mile is in play depending how he comes back and recovers from the trip," said Pletcher. "Initially, on what our team is seeing over there, is that he bounced out of it in good enter.

Pletcher also said that Kentucky Derby contenders Spinoff, who finished second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, and Cutting Humor, who won the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby, would train up to the Derby from his winter base at Palm Beach Downs with both due to breeze on either Thursday or Friday of this week.

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Mind Control still on target for G1 Woody Stephens following Bay Shore victory

Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables' Mind Control proved his connections prophetic, posting a 1 ¼-length victory in Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Bay Shore at seven furlongs under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

The Gregory Sacco trainee won the Grade 1 Hopeful in September at Saratoga, putting him on an early potential Derby trail, which was bolstered when he won the one-mile Jerome on January 1 at Aqueduct.

But following a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Gotham, a Derby prep, Sacco and the owners decided to return Mind Control to a sprint instead of targeting the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial, and the Stay Thirsty colt responded by earning a 97 Beyer for the Bay Shore win.

"He was really powerful yesterday and ran a nice race," Sacco said. "Going back to the Gotham, he was able to rate, so that's in our favor with these races. Moving forward, I think it'll be to his advantage where he can stalk horses. He's a pro. You can't train heart in a horse, and he has that and a tremendous amount of ability."

Sacco said Mind Control is still on target for the seven-furlong Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens on June 8, Belmont Stakes Day, at Belmont Park. The conditioner said he is not expecting to run Mind Control in another race before that date.

Joevia came out of his eventful Wood Memorial in good order. The Shanghai Bobby colt, breaking from the outermost post, veered to the far left out of the gate as jockey Nik Juarez tried to correct his path.

Joevia, owned by Michael and Jeff Fazio, ended up leading the 11-horse field through the quarter-mile before Not That Brady ran ahead by the half-mile mark. Joevia finished the race seventh but was disqualified and placed last for interference stemming from the start.

"Out of the gate, my instructions to Nik were to come off the pace and I was shocked. He tapped him leaving there and couldn't get him back. He made a mistake and it's just unfortunate because I think the race he would have run would have been different had he not rushed off his feet leaving the gate there," Sacco said. "It was just a little bizarre, I don't think Nik expected that. Then, he was committed. Joevia actually hung in there pretty good despite all of that. It was just unfortunate that he sawed off the field and a lot of horses were compromised by that. By no means was that intentional.

"It was just one of those things where [Juarez] tapped him leaving there and he got away from him. It was just disaster from there," continued Sacco. "I felt bad for the other horses who were compromised going into the first turn. It's tough, this horse isn't that experienced. Watching it unfold was actually painful."

Sacco said he had no immediate plans yet for Joevia, but he could return in about six weeks.

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Brisset keeping options open for Positive Spirit

Michael Ryan's Positive Spirit returned to form following a disappointing eighth at Fair Grounds in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra with a strong second in Saturday's Grade 2 Gazelle won by the streaking Always Shopping.

With Jose Ortiz up, Positive Spirit set a moderate pace, reaching the half-mile in 50.09 seconds, and stayed on strong to hold off all but the winner.

"On paper, the race didn't have any pace at all and we know our filly can come running out of the gate," said trainer Rodolphe Brisset. "We told Jose to play the break and sit well where she's comfortable. Being on the pace in 50 looked pretty comfortable to us."

Positive Spirit, who trained at Payson Park in Florida for the Gazelle, was stabled at Bill Mott's barn at Belmont Park.

"It sounds like she came out of the race well," said Brisset. "I was in touch with Leana Willaford, Bill Mott's assistant, and she said she cooled out well after the race and looked good this morning. So, she's in good shape."

Positive Spirit, a Pioneerof the Nile bay, graduated at third asking at Churchill Downs ahead of a romping 10 1/2-length score in the Grade 2 Demoiselle on December 1 at the Big A, earning her 10 qualifying points towards the Kentucky Oaks.

Following the uncharacteristic effort when last of eight in the Rachel Alexandra, Positive Spirit showed fighting spirit in the Gazelle to earn an additional 40 points, which puts her in 13th spot on the Oaks leaderboard with a total of 50.

At this early stage, Brisset said the team is undecided on whether or not the filly will point to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

"It's too early to decide. She'll come back to us in Keeneland tomorrow and we'll see how she's doing. I'll have to talk with the owner, but it's not a priority," said Brisset. "Since she won the Demoiselle, we've been saying we see her as more of a filly for the summer in Saratoga. A race like the Alabama [Grade 1, Aug. 17] could be a very good goal for her.

"She did get the points and the mile and an eighth for the Oaks would fit her perfectly," continued Brisset. "But, it's going to be a team decision between the owner and I and then we'll go from there."

Brisset said he was pleased to see Positive Spirit return to form on Saturday.

"I was glad to see how she ran yesterday. We were scratching our heads after the race at Fair Grounds," said Brisset. "Yesterday, she ran back to what she showed us when she broke her maiden and won the Demoiselle."

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NYRA Cross Country Pick 5 returns $8,228.75

Saturday's Cross Country Pick 5, featuring all graded stakes from Aqueduct and Keeneland, attracted a pool of $250,763 and produced a massive $8,228.75 payout for 50 cents despite favorites winning three of five legs.

The sequence kicked off with the Grade 1, $300,000 Madison from Keeneland where Spiced Perfection ($11) collared Amy's Challenge for a narrow neck win, shortly followed by mutuel favorite World of Trouble ($3.70), who stalked and pounced to a convincing victory in the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap at the Big A.

Chaos reigned in the third leg, when 52-1 shot Out for a Spin made the lead at the top of the lane and stayed on stubbornly for a neck score over Restless Rider in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland at Keeneland, returning $106.20.

The penultimate leg, the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets, featured a talented field of 11 with Tacitus scoring as the 5-2 favorite, returning $7.20.

The favored Vekoma drew off to win the closing leg, the Grade 2, $1 million Blue Grass from Keeneland by 3 1/2-lengths, returning $4.80.

The Cross Country Pick 5 will return next Saturday featuring a selection of stakes races from Aqueduct, Keeneland and Oaklawn Park.

The minimum bet for the multi-track, multi-race wager is 50 cents. Wagering on the Cross Country Pick 5 is also available on track, on ADW platforms, and at simulcast facilities across the country. There will be a mandatory payout of the entire pool.

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