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2023 Blue Grass Stakes Replay | Tapit Trice Overpowers Verifying; Top Kentucky Derby Contender?
Matt Wooley/Equisport Photos/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM

2023 Blue Grass Stakes Replay | Tapit Trice Overpowers Verifying; Top Kentucky Derby Contender?

Tapit Trice won the 2023 Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland, a major 100-point prep race for the Kentucky Derby (G1), after overpowering Verifying in the stretch. Is the Todd Pletcher trainee the new top contender for the Derby, or is someone else more enticing? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable’s Tapit Trice edged away from Verifying in deep stretch to win the 99th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G1) for 3-year-olds on Saturday afternoon by a neck at Keeneland.

Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Luis Saez, Tapit Trice covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.00. The victory is a record-setting fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass for Pletcher and the third for Saez. 

Pletcher’s other victories came with Bandini in 2005, Monba in 2008 and Carpe Diem in 2015. Saez won with Brody’s Cause in 2016 and Essential Quality in 2021. 

The victory was worth 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and gave Tapit Trice 150 points, good for fourth place on the leaderboard. The Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners and invitees that pass the entry box. 

Verifying picked up 40 points and increased his total to 54. Blazing Sevens earned 30 points for finishing third to boost his total to 46. Sun Thunder picked up 20 points for finishing fourth to give him 54 points, and Raise Cain added 10 points for fifth and a total of 64 points. The current cut line is 45 points.

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Next Saturday’s Stonestreet Lexington (G3) at Keeneland is the final points race for the Derby and offers 40 points on a 20-8-6-4-2 scale for the first- through fifth-place finishers. 

In the Toyota Blue Grass, longshot Clear the Air set the pace through fractions of :23.32 and :48.04 with Verifying running second and Tapit Trice racing in midpack in the clear in the early run down the backstretch. 

Midway on the backstretch, Saez made a five-wide move to close in on the leaders and by the time the field passed 6 furlongs in 1:12.57, Tapit Trice had drawn within a length of the leaders. 

As the field turned for home, Clear the Air retreated leaving the two favorites to battle it through the lane with Verifying holding a narrow advantage until past the sixteenth pole when Tapit Trice inched past. 

The two colts brushed a couple of times in the stretch, and an objection lodged by Tyler Gaffalione on Verifying was disallowed. 

Tapit Trice’s victory, his fourth in a row, was worth $573,500 and increased his earnings to $883,650 with a record of 5-4-0-1. Tapit Trice, purchased for $1.3 million at Keeneland’s 2021 September Yearling Sale, is a Kentucky-bred son of Tapit out of the Dunkirk mare Danzatrice. 

Favored in the field of 11, Tapit Trice returned $5.28, $3.12 and $2.64. Verifying returned $3.70 and $2.92 and finished 5¾ lengths in front of Blazing Sevens, who paid $3.74 to show under Irad Ortiz Jr. 

It was another half-length back to Sun Thunder, who was followed in order by Raise Cain, Mendelssohns March, Hayes Strike, Classic Car Wash, Scoobie Quando, Major Blue and Clear the Air. 

Quotes for the $1 Million Toyota Blue Grass (G1)

Todd Pletcher (winning trainer of Tapit Trice)

“He didn’t jump well, but then he gained a little momentum. It got a little hairy going into the first turn, but when he was able to secure that spot (jockey) Luis (Saez) was able to take him out in the clear down the backside. That was the position we hoped to get into, and once he got into that stride I thought we were in good shape. Yeah (slow out of the gate), that’s him. We’re not going to make him into a quick horse. The distances, as they stretch out, we always felt like would make him better. I think (the 1¼ miles of the Kentucky Derby-G1 Presented by Woodford Reserve) is right in his wheelhouse.”

Mandy Pope (whose Whisper Hill Farm co-owns Tapit Trice with Gainesway Stable)

“It is so awesome (to get Tapit Trice a Grade 1 win). It’s unbelievable for me. It’s dreams come true and a lot of hard work from a lot of people.”

On the motivation behind her commitment to Thoroughbred sales and racing

“It’s the determination that quality does pay off and quality is worth all the effort. From pedigree to the physical to the trainers to the barn crew at each of our farms who raise the horses and break them – they’re all quality people and it’s a quality effort. Hopefully quality continues up the road.”

On being ready to have one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby  

“We’ll have one of the favorites.”

Antony Beck (owner of Gainesway, which bred Tapit Trice)

“He’s absolutely outstanding. It’s wonderful to be partners with Mandy (Pope). It’s a great friendship. We both love, love horses; we both love the sport. Tapit (sire of Tapit Trice standing at Gainesway Farm) has been an incredible stallion and this is another one of his incredible horses. I also want to thank John Fort (of Peachtree Stable), who selected Danzatrice (dam of Tapit Trice) for me as a 2-year-old. Without that, we wouldn’t be here.”

Luis Saez (winning rider)

On the objection from jockey of runner-up Verifying: 

“I just feel like I was riding Tapit Trice perfectly. We came and passed the other horse (runner-up Verifying) clear and then when I was in front I felt like somebody hit my horse from behind. I feel like the other guy (jockey Tyler Gaffalione) tried to look for a chance and look for a foul. That’s what I feel. I didn’t feel like we would come down. I kept the horse straight and he won the race.” 

“Yes, definitely (the early move to get clear down the backside was key). First of all, we had a tough (post one) position, especially with him, because he takes a little while to get going. In the first turn we had an opportunity to put him in the clear. I made a little move early, because the pace was pretty slow, so I could get behind the horse we were supposed to beat. I know we have to beat everybody, but that was the horse (Verifying) to follow, so we were right there, and when he made his move we were right on top of him.” 

Tyler Gaffalione (rider of runner-up Verifying)

“He really ran a huge race and tried very hard. (Tapit Trice) kind of came in on me in the stretch, but my horse really tried hard today, especially in the stretch. He dug in and almost got it done.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. (rider of third-place finisher Blazing Sevens)

“I got a good trip. I was a step slow trying to get into position, and then (found) a perfect spot going into the first turn beside the winner. Then I let him go and I sat right behind him. After that everything was perfect. He stayed (running) and can go farther for sure. Didn’t work out for him today. He’s a nice horse.”

Florent Geroux (rider of fourth-place finisher Sun Thunder)

“I was at the back of the pack and I weaved my way through traffic. We took fourth place, all went great but he was really out of reach from the first two.”

Brian Hernandez Jr. (rider of sixth-place finisher Mendelssohns March)

“We had a really good trip and a good position going into the first turn. I thought we were in a good spot coming down the backside, but Tapit Trice (got the) jump on us early. He started to make his move and we just got kind of pinned in there. He seemed like he stepped up for only his third race. (Mendelssohns March) was there for me the entire way. The other horses were just a little more seasoned and got the better of him today.” 

Javier Castellano (rider of eighth-place finisher Classic Car Wash)

“I liked the way my horse ran today. He ran great and broke well out of the gate. He had a good position in the race and saved ground. Some days horses don’t show up. He’s a nice horse but unfortunately he didn’t show up today.”