Tapiture at Churchill Downs before winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire).
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2014 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Tapiture, winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 30 at Churchill Downs.
Tapiture was winless in three starts entering the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes but he had shown promise in his previous races, which included a third-place finish by a half-length in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes. Having placed in a graded stakes, Tapiture was pegged as the 3.30-to-1 second betting choice in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and rewarded his supporters with a dominant 4 ¼-length victory.
Sire (Father): Tapit
Dam (Mother): Free Spin, by Olympio
Owners: Ron Winchell
Breeder: Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (Ky.)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Ability: Tapiture finished second in his career debut on Aug. 17 at Saratoga Race Course and posted a solid 90 Equibase Speed Figure. The chestnut Tapit colt subsequently was flattered when the winner of that race, Strong Mandate, won the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes in his next race on Sept. 2.
Tapiture made his stakes debut in his second start on Sept. 7 at Churchill Downs and led in the stretch but came up a half-length short when third behind Cleburne and Smart Cover in the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois.
He also led in the stretch of his third start, a one-mile maiden race at Churchill, but faded to third before earning a breakthrough victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
In the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Tapiture showed an extra gear in the stretch and powered well clear, unlike his previous two starts. He earned a career-best 98 Equibase Speed Figure in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and showed he can excel in races going around two turns. The one knock on the race is that morning-line favorite Almost Famous was scratched the morning of the race with a foot injury, so it is fair to question the quality of the competition Tapiture defeated.
Running style: In Tapiture’s four races he has never been more than three lengths off the pace after the first quarter-mile and has never been worse than second in early stretch. He’s shown good early speed and the ability to race just behind the leaders before making his move when the jockey gives him his cue.
In two of his races, Tapiture took command in the stretch only to be passed, but he did show he had the stamina to win at 1 1/16 miles in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He has an ideal, stalking running style for a Kentucky Derby contender because the farther back you are in the 20-horse field for the first jewel of the Triple Crown, the more traffic a horse will encounter when making his big move.
RICARDO SANTANA JR. CELEBRATES AS TAPITURE CROSSES THE FINISH LINE
Connections: Steve Asmussen has won more than 6,600 career races through Dec. 9 and holds the North American record for wins in a season with 650, set in 2009. The 2008 and 2009 Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer is best known as the trainer of Curlin, the U.S. Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008, as well as 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Curlin won the Preakness Stakes in 2007 and Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness in 2009 in her first start for Asmussen.
Winchell Thoroughbreds is the racing operation started by Verne Winchell and now run by his wife, Joan, and son, Ron. Verne Winchell founded the doughnut company Winchell’s in 1948 and one of his first top runners was the appropriately named Donut King. Verne Winchell died at age 87 in 2002. The Winchells also raced 2005 Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly and 2004 Wood Memorial Stakes winner Tapit, who has gone on to become of the top sires in the U.S. Many of the Winchells top runners are by Tapit.
Ricardo Santana Jr. has been aboard Tapiture for his two most recent starts. Santana, who took out his jockey’s license in 2009, is enjoying a career year in 2013, setting new benchmarks for wins and purse earnings while earning all eight of his career graded stakes victories.
Previous Making the Grades
Pedigree: Tapiture is by top stallion Tapit, winner of the 2004 Wood Memorial for the Winchells. Tapit’s best runners include juvenile champions Stardom Bound and Hansen and Grade or Group 1 winners Tapitsfly, Joyful Victory, Testa Matta, Careless Jewel, Tapizar, Zazu, Laragh, and Dance Card. Most of his top runners were best in two-turn races.
Tapiture’s dam (mother) is Free Spin, by Olympio, a three-time winner sprinting who has produced three stakes winners from five foals to race. In fact, Tapiture is a full-brother (same sire [father], same dam [mother]) to stakes winners Retap and Remit, the latter a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles.
His second dam (maternal grandmother) was a winner at a mile, while his third dam (maternal great-grandmother) won a pair of stakes races sprinting.
This is a pedigree that offers enough stamina to keep an open mind about Tapiture’s chances to excel at 1 ¼ miles but certainly not one that jumps out as an obvious classic pedigree. Most of the best offspring of Tapit have been at their best at 1 1/16 miles or 1 1/8 miles and the maternal half of this pedigree slants more toward speed than stamina.
Which brings us back to the big question: Will Tapiture have enough gas in the tank to deliver his best effort at 1 ¼ miles if he has shown trouble holding on to leads going a mile and 1 1/16 miles? He certainly has time to mature and room for improvement, but only time will tell if he has the makings of a classic winner.