SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY – Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Tacitus overcame a bumper-car start and a game foe in Tax to tough out victory in Saturday’s Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct.
Breaking from post 2 as the 5/2 favorite under Jose Ortiz, Tacitus soon found himself in a spot of trouble when the rail-breaking Tax lugged out and Joevia came crossing over sharply from the far outside. Joevia’s move created a bottleneck that saw several horses have to steady in order to avoid running into and over each other. Even Tacitus was not spared; contact with Final Jeopardy occurred when that foe was forced down into him, causing Tacitus’ rear end to shoot out to the left.
Ortiz pulled up to avoid clipping heels and let Tacitus gather himself, and once he did, the Bill Mott trainee rode comfortably in fourth while Joevia and Not That Brady blitzed away fro the pack through opening fractions of :23.62, :46.91, and 1:11.46. Heading into the far turn, the leading pair soon began falling off sharply, and Tax made first run, but Tacitus was close behind him.
At the top of the stretch, Tax held the lead, but Tacitus soon roared up along his outside. Just inside the final furlong marker, Tacitus inched forward and gradually continued to move past. In hand late, Tacitus crossed with a 1 1/4-length advantage in a final time of 1:51.23 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track.
“I was pleased with his effort,” Ortiz said after winning his first Wood Memorial. “I don’t know about the other horses behind me; it was kind of crazy around the first turn. After that, he got a little bumped. He’s a big horse. He managed to take that and go on and win the race. A mile and 1/4 will suit him. The mile and 1/8 didn’t bother him, so I think going a little bit longer can be good too.”
Taking away nothing in defeat, trainer Danny Gargan was pleased with how Tax finished under jockey Junior Alvarado.
“He ran huge,” he said. “The horses laying up close all day have been running really well. I told Junior, ‘Let’s just break out of there and get a good position.’ I didn’t want to take back. Let’s make them run into the first turn and make your move turning for home. If we get run down, it’s okay. I don’t mind running second today, I just wanted to make sure we got enough Derby points to get in. We might have moved a little early today, but we get to go to Louisville, Kentucky, now.”
After dropping from the clouds to win the one-turn, 1-mile Gotham Stakes (G3) last out, Haikal was thought to be mostly a sprinter, but the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee was able to grind his way up late to take third. Having already qualified for the Derby with that win, many were unsure if
“We ran very well,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously, his first time around two turns, he finished strong. He might do better with a little faster pace, but that could happen if we go to the Derby. You never know, two turns and the distance, it was a good answer – he answered the questions. He ran very well. He can do the distance. I don’t know yet (about going to the Kentucky Derby). We’ll talk to the owner.”
Math Wizard closed for fourth, with Not That Brady weakening to fifth. Final Jeopardy was never given a chance to run his best race following the start and settled for sixth. Joevia finished seventh, but following the race, the stewards reviewed the start and ultimately disqualified him to last in the 11-horse field. Crossing the wire behind Joevia came Hoffa’s Union, Grumps Little Tots, Outshine, and Overdeliver to complete the order of finish.
The Wood Memorial is part of the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby prep race season. Tacitus earned 100 points for the win, with Tax receiving 40 for second, Haikal 20 for third, and Math Wizard 10 for fourth.
Tacitus’ win was his third straight, having broken his maiden here on November 20 before taking the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) last month. The 3-year-old son of Tapit now carries a record of 4-3-0-0 with $653,000 earned.
“I thought it was a very good effort,” Mott said. “It was very rough on the first turn, but fortunately, he came out of it in good order. When he got down the backside, I thought he had a nice, clear run by himself. He kind of got his feet back under him and regrouped a little bit. When it was time to run, he started to wear them down.”
Tacitus returned $7.20 to win, $4.70 to place, and $3 to show. Tax brought back $6.20 to place and $3.90 to show, while Haikal paid $3.10 to show.