G1 Belmont Stakes contestant Tapit Trice could provide Pope with breakthrough score
Jun 8, 2023
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G1 Belmont Stakes contestant Tapit Trice could provide Pope with breakthrough score

by NYRA Press Office

  • G1 Belmont Stakes contestant Tapit Trice could provide Pope with breakthrough score
  • Joseph O’Brien back to the flat with High Definition in G2 Belmont Gold Cup
  • Bay Storm seeks elusive graded triumph in G3 Intercontinental
  • G1 Belmont Stakes contenders continue preparations for the “Test of the Champion”

Whisper Hill Farm owner Mandy Pope has invested significantly in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing, primarily in the market for broodmares with world-class pedigrees. In Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, she will seek a breakthrough triumph with a horse she purchased as a yearling in $1.3 million acquisition Tapit Trice.

Pope is best known for purchasing dual Champion Female Sprinter Groupie Doll [$3.1 million], 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace [$10 million] and soon to be enshrined Hall of Famer Songbird [$9.5 million] to add to her broodmare band. All three have visited four-time Belmont Stakes producing stallion Tapit – the sire of Tapit Trice. 

Co-owned by breeder Gainesway Stable, Tapit Trice enters the “Test of the Champion” off a troubled seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs. The effort ended a four-race win streak over as many racetracks, which included triumphs on the Derby trail in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 8 at Keeneland, where he defeated Verifying after a thrilling stretch duel, and the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs. 

Although Tapit Trice is not a Whisper Hill homebred by Tapit like many of Pope’s racing prospects, she said the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is, “a great example of what we’ve done in buying horses.”

“We did a lot of shopping and looking at the horses that we’re available at Keeneland. He was the one that I just really zeroed in on,” recalled Pope. “I loved him physically and mentally. I also trusted Gainesway to know that they did a good job in raising him. It was awesome that they bought back in. His brain is very good and he’s very level headed, which helps him.”

Todd Quast, general manager of Whisper Hill Farm, echoed Pope’s sentiments.

“He really stood out amongst the horses that we looked at and we don’t buy a lot of [yearlings] at the sale,” Quast said. “We might buy 5-10 tops every year. Mandy was very, very high on him and I liked him as well. I was hoping we would pay a little less for him, but the market is what the market is. We’re extremely happy to have him.”

Tapit Trice certainly has plenty on his side leading up to Saturday’s engagement. He is by Tapit, who produced Belmont Stakes winners Tonalist [2014], Creator [2016], Tapwrit [2017] and Essential Quality [2021] while also producing Constitution – a Belmont Stakes producing stallion in his own right as the sire of 2020 winner Tiz the Law. 

Additionally, he is conditioned by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled four winners of the prestigious race, including the aforementioned Tapwrit. On the bottom side of his pedigree, Tapit Trice is out of the three-time stakes-winning mare Danzatrice whose Pletcher-trained sire Dunkirk finished second in 2009 Belmont Stakes behind Summer Bird. 

“I don’t think there’s any question that he can go the distance,” Pope said. “Hopefully, he’ll get a better trip than he did in the Derby and it sets up for that closing punch that he has.” 

Quast noted the horse’s large stride as his most effective weapon in getting the endurance-testing 1 1/2-mile distance. 

“He’s a big, powering horse that takes him a while to get going,” Quast commented. “In the Derby, we drew inside [post 5] and it was frustrating for him being down there. He couldn’t get out in the straightaway the first time, couldn’t get out into the first turn, couldn’t get out down the backside and then when he finally gets out, he had too much left to do. I don’t see the Belmont being that way with only nine horses.”

Tapit Trice drew post 2 of nine contenders for the Belmont Stakes, but drawing an inner post does not concern Quast this time around. 

“That’s OK because it’s a longer race and hopefully we can get a better trip,” Quast said. “His high-cruising speed is what we need to have. He needs to be able to get into that gear and go on. In the Blue Grass, when Verifying bumped him a couple of times, he showed he can keep going, he just has to be able to get in that stride.”

Quast commented on the legacy that Tapit has developed in being a prominent Belmont Stakes producing sire. 

“We have a lot more distance in the Belmont and being a Tapit, it’s well documented how well they’ve done in the Belmont,” Quast said. “He’s got help on the mare side too with Dunkirk. He is a Tapit in that he can be a little headstrong every now and then, but he’s very smart. After he won the Blue Grass, he kind of woke up a bit. He’s doing a little more showing off, in a good way, as he gets older. The Classics are huge and I do think the Belmont is coming up as one of the best races this year in terms of depth and quality.”

Tapit Trice will be ridden by Luis Saez, who guided dual Champion and Tapit progeny Essential Quality to victory in the 2021 Belmont Stakes. Although best known for being a frontrunning rider, Saez and Tapit Trice fit each other quite well according to Quast. 

“He’s a good physical rider and sometimes Tapit Trice needs to be reminded to get into it and get going,” Quast said. “As we’ve gotten him into more races he doesn’t need that as much, but I think that’s where Luis fits him well. He never gives up on him either. He knows that kick is coming, you just have to put him in the position or get the position to be able to do it. They fit each other to a ‘T.’”

For Pope, an elusive triumph in an American Classic would be a special one. 

“I want to say it would be the icing on the cake, but there’s a lot of icing out there to be had,” Pope said. “It definitely would be at the top.”


Joseph O’Brien back to the flat with High Definition in G2 Belmont Gold Cup

Leipers Fork’s steeplechaser High Definition will make his return to the flat for the first time since October in Friday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Belmont Gold Cup, shipping in from Ireland and exiting three runs in Group 1 hurdle affairs.  

Trained by Joseph O’Brien, who won the 2021 edition with Baron Samedi, the 5-year-old son of Galileo has held a high profile since day one. As a juvenile, when in the care of his father Aidan O’Brien, the full-brother to Group 1-placed Innisfree won his first two races like the proverbial real deal, defeating subsequently Group 1-placed Wordsworth on debut and then winning the Group 2 Beresford well enough to garner future-book favoritism for the Group 1 [Epsom] Derby. 

Prospects for High Definition became a bit more blurry after that, going 0-for-4 as a 3-year-old, while starting as the betting favorite in three of those and chasing home the likes of Hurricane Lane and Yibir.  

After a winless 4-year-old flat season that saw him race with credit, including a second in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup and third in the Group 1 Coronation Cup, he was transferred to the younger O’Brien and given an opportunity in a Boxing Day two-mile maiden hurdle. A one-sided winner, he then competed in the aforementioned triad of top-level hurdle races, capped with a second in late April’s Group Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. Shaking things up again, O’Brien sends him back to the flat and across the Atlantic. 

“Obviously, we were lucky enough to win the race with Baron Samedi and we think, like him, High Definition is the right type for the race,” O’Brien said. “He has settled in at Belmont and had a jump from the gates yesterday morning. He’s an experienced performer at this stage, so he should be able to handle the circumstances of the race well.”

Like Baron Samedi, High Definition enters the two-mile staying challenge with stamina in spades and a 112 Official Rating—but the similarities end there. High Definition, despite a propensity for picking up place checks, enters with a significantly higher profile. He also, unlike the closing Baron Samedi, is more of a free-running, forwardly placed sort.

“He should handle the quicker ground and we are expecting him to get the two miles well,” O’Brien concluded. “We do expect him to race relatively forwardly. He’s not a hard puller, so he can stalk the pace take the lead. I’m really hopeful for a good run.”

O’Brien, 30, was a champion jockey in Ireland while riding first call for Ballydoyle and winning group/grade 1s in Ireland, France, UK, UAE and USA. As a trainer, he shot to superstardom, with top-level wins in Ireland, Australia, France, UK and the USA. The dual Group 1 Melbourne Cup-winning conditioner has four wins from 26 runs in America, including Iridessa’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf and State of Rest’s Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational.


Bay Storm seeks elusive graded triumph in G3 Intercontinental

Bridlewood Farm’s Bay Storm has twice been defeated by slim margins in graded events for trainer Jonathan Thomas, but will have a strong chance to avenge those defeats in Friday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Intercontinental, a six-furlong inner turf sprint for older fillies and mares, at Belmont Park. 

The 5-year-old daughter of Kantharos brings a perfect in-the-money record over the Belmont green, including a stakes conquest in the 2021 Christiecat. Bay Storm also boasts a near-perfect lifetime record, finishing on-the-board in all but one of her 14 career outings. 

“The mare has done well and she seems to do pretty well at Belmont,” said Thomas. “This is a little bit of a tougher affair than she’s had there, but she certainly seems like she fits. We’re hopeful.” 

Bay Storm enters from a hard-trying second in the Unbridled Sidney on May 5 at Churchill Downs where she was defeated 1 1/2 lengths by last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Caravel and preserved place honors by a head over Sarah Harper. She has held her own against some of the best in her division over the past year, finishing second by a nose to dual Group 1-winner Campanelle in the Grade 3 Mint Ladies Sprint in September at Kentucky Downs. 

“We weren’t giving Caravel any threat in the Unbridled Sidney, but it was heart-wrenching to get beat by Campanelle, especially when one step after the wire she was right back there [in front],” said Thomas. “My heart went out to her that day because she’s one of those horses who’s just too good to not be a graded stakes winner.” 

Bay Storm’s two other graded placings came when second, defeated a half-length by Quattroelle, in the Grade 3 Megahertz in February at Santa Anita Park and third in the Grade 3 Suwannee River in December at Gulfstream Park. She has amassed $578,080 in total purse earnings through a lifetime record of 14-4-6-3. 

“It’s kind of a rarity in the business having horses like her,” said Thomas. “This is her 15th start and for her to have showed up consistently and also perform consistently, she is a really neat mare. Everyone loves her around the barn and she’s awfully nice to have.” 

Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will guide Bay Storm from post 5 as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. 

Thomas also provided an update on Augustin Stables’ stakes-winning filly Empress Tigress, who has not raced since finishing seventh in a December optional claiming tilt at Gulfstream. The Classic Empire chestnut, who won last year’s Coronation Cup and finished second in the Galway at Saratoga Race Course, has been retired from racing and was successfully bred to multiple graded stakes-winner Charlatan. 

“She is in foal to Charlatan and hopefully she’ll make a really nice mama,” said Thomas. “Hopefully we can have one of her offspring come up to Saratoga for us. She was a neat filly, was very fast and is a beautiful horse.” 


G1 Belmont Stakes contenders continue preparations for the “Test of the Champion”

A talented field of nine sophomores will line up for the 155th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Belmont Park.

With training canceled on Thursday at Belmont Park due to poor air quality conditions currently impacting New York State, each of the Belmont Stakes contenders revised training plans.

Grade 3 Peter Pan-winner Arcangelo, trained by Jena Antonucci for owner Blue Rose Farm, visited the round pen to stretch his legs.

“He's happy and he'll walk this afternoon,” Antonucci said. “He’ll be fine. It's one day. It doesn't define everything. It's not going to change his fitness. It's a rest day today, train tomorrow. 

“We can't sweat what we can't control,” added Antonucci. “I can promise you none of these horses that are running on Saturday, are you going to change their fitness in one day.”

Arcangelo, by Arrogate, possesses Belmont Stakes-influenced bloodlines through his third dam Better Than Honour, who produced Belmont Stakes winners Jazil [2006] and Rags to Riches [2007].

A win on Saturday for Arcangelo would make Antonucci the first female trainer to saddle a Belmont Stakes-winner, but the conditioner said she’s taking everything one day at a time.

“I'll be excited when I've done my job, the saddle is on and he's walking to the racetrack,” said Antonucci.

Two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox reported each of his three Belmont Stakes contenders, Angel of Empire, Hit Show, and Tapit Shoes, walked the shed row this morning. Cox said he is not concerned about missing a day of training.

“Days off are good, right? For humans and horses,” said Cox. “Everything is quiet and hopefully we can get back out tomorrow and do a little something. We’ll be fine and they’re all good-minded horses.”

SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital and Catherine Donovan’s Grade 1 Preakness winner National Treasure jogged in the shed row on Thursday morning, in lieu of a light gallop, which was the original plan. Per Jimmy Barnes, assistant trainer to Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, “all systems are go” for a stab at Saturday’s “Test of the Champion.”

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle a pair of contenders in reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte and Grade 1-winner Tapit Trice. Both horses walked the shed row this morning per assistant trainer Byron Hughes.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Red Route One walked the shed row in tack on Thursday morning, per Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s chief assistant Scott Blasi.

Antonio Sano will saddle Eduardo Soto’s Il Miracolo, who will look to upset the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes

“This morning he walked the shed row. It's the same for all. It's the same for everyone,” Sano said. “The horse is doing good. It's a very strong race. Hopefully, my horse runs well and comes back well.”

The Belmont Stakes headlines the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival that features a total of 16 stakes events from Thursday, June 8 through Saturday, June 10. For additional information on the 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and details on hospitality offerings, ticket packages and pricing, visit BelmontStakes.com.

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