By: Jay Privman
Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, 1 1/16 miles, Tampa Bay Downs, March 11, 2017
(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)
Winner: Tapwrit, by Tapit
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Owner: Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Robert LaPenta
Beyer Speed Figure: 96
This looked in part like a rerun of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (http://www.drf.com/news/road-derby-sam-f-davis-analysis) from four weeks prior, with the second- through fourth-place finishers taking the first three spots. So while TAPWRIT finished first, the big winner may have been Sam Davis winner McCraken, whose form certainly was flattered by Tapwrit.
But Tapwrit is a worthy Kentucky Derby candidate in his own right. He finished well for second in the Sam Davis, and in this race got a career-best figure with an authoritative victory. He always was cut out to be a good horse, as his pedigree and $1.2 million price tag as a yearling attest, and he’s definitely picking the right time to make major strides forward. He’s now 3 for 4 since adding blinkers following his debut. The only horse who has finished in front of him in his last four races is McCraken. Look out.
In this race, Tapwrit bobbled leaving the gate, dropped back between rivals coming under the wire the first time, got bounced around between rivals into the first turn, and ended up three paths wide while toward the latter part of the field. He entered the far turn between rivals while three paths wide, accelerated sharply to rocket past BEASLEY and set after pacesetting STATE OF HONOR, moved right past him heading into the lane, and was given several reminders with the whip, both left- and right-handed, through the final furlong.
State of Honor, who finished second, broke a half-step slow but got in gear quickly and moved up three to four paths wide into the first turn to take the lead. He set a sharp pace while jockey Julien Leparoux appeared to try and get him to go along a little more sensibly, put away those closest to him early as he moved around the far turn, was asked to go with Tapwrit but could not, yet still continued with good energy to safely hold the place. He is much improved with the blinkers that have been added for his last two starts, but he needs to follow the cues of his rider and be a bit more cooperative in the early going if he is going to handle nine furlongs or farther.
WILD SHOT, who was third, was taken in hand early and was in front of only the 360-1 shot ZION VALLEY into the first turn while being angled in to save ground. He went into the far turn in the four path, was angled inward and followed the path of Tapwrit into the lane, was a bit late to change leads, then went evenly through the final furlong. He’s a very nice horse who just doesn’t seem to punch it home in the late stages going two turns.
NO DOZING, who was fourth, raced in the three path while between horses heading into the first turn, worked his way to a perfect stalking position down the backstretch and into the far turn, was urged along with three furlongs remaining to go after State of Honor but could make no headway, had Tapwrit roar past him nearing the quarter pole, then finished evenly along the rail.
Beasley, who finished fifth, bobbled slightly leaving the gate, was caught four paths wide around the first turn, never had a chance to drop over down the backstretch, remained in the four path into the far turn, had Tapwrit blow past him to his inside, then had Wild Shot come up on his inside, too. He just went up and down through the lane, but the wide trip has to be factored into his performance.
BASHA, who finished sixth, broke best and led initially until State of Honor took up the running. He settled into second along the rail, started to lose ground down the backstretch, fell farther back initially on the far turn, then passed only tiring rivals while never threatening.
TALE OF SILENCE, who was seventh, raced midpack while along the rail around the first turn, advanced just outside of Basha nearing the far turn, was shoved along aggressively three furlongs out, dropped back, was angled to the middle of the track for the stretch drive, and passed some stragglers.
SONIC MULE, who was eighth, was just behind State of Honor and right alongside Basha while forwardly placed around the first turn, was second into the far turn while chasing State of Honor, but dropped back readily through the final three furlongs without putting up any fight.
Zion Valley had no speed and was taken to the rail into the first turn, was badly outrun around the first turn and into the backstretch and was pulled up on the far turn.
THE MONEY MONSTER raced in the two path while toward the back of the pack around the first turn, started to lose ground badly while heading up the backstretch, lost contact with the field and was pulled up.