Nothing Taxing For Reeves For This Year’s Kentucky Derby
By Margaret Ransom
For Thoroughbred owner Dean Reeves and his wife Patti, this year’s trip to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby with Tax, who they own in partnership with good friends Randy Hill (R.A. Hill Stable), Hugh Lynch and Lucas Stritsman (Corms Racing Stable) seems like a bit of déjà vu all over again. Six years ago, the Georgia residents traveled to Louisville with another top runner with legitimate Derby credentials in Mucho Macho Man, who would run third behind Animal Kingdom under the Twin Spires that day in what at the time the Reeves expected to be a single experience of a lifetime.
Fast forward to 2019 and the couple is back in the Derby spotlight with Tax, a well-bred son of Arch who was claimed for $50,000 out of his second career start at Keeneland back in October by trainer Danny Gargan. At the time Gargan claimed the gelding in just Lynch’s name, but it wasn’t long before the Reeves saw the value of an ownership share in the dark brown Kentucky-bred.
“We are on a list for Danny to call when he wants people to get in on a horse he’s claimed,” Dean Reeves said. “After he claimed Tax he called us and our friend Randy Hill, who at the time kind of said, ‘Nah, I have plenty of horses.” We were in the same boat, but after Tax ran in the Remsen (where he was third) we all thought we’d better re-think this one.”
Reeves has always has plans and motives for the horses he buys into, largely preferring the dirt route types for several reasons, chiefly because they seem to hold their longevity in their racing careers. Tax fit into that plan well.
“We like the two-turn dirt horses mostly, like Mucho Macho Man,” Reeves explained. “Tax made a good showing at a mile and an eighth, which fit that. And he’s a gelding, so he’s got the chance to run well into his four-, five- and six-year-old years and beyond and maintain good form.”
Thanks to Mucho Macho Man, Reeves was no stranger to the warning signs of Derby fever, and after purchasing his interest in Tax he says he was largely symptom-free over the winter. That is until Tax ran in the Withers Stakes in February.
“We were at Gulfstream Park in the paddock that day (for another one of his horses’ races),” Reeves explained. “And they weren’t showing the Withers on the big screen, so we were literally standing in the paddock at Gulfstream watching the race on a phone. (Patti) and I got to cheering and then celebrating after he won, telling people who were looking at us, ‘We just won the Withers!’”
What was particularly impressive for Reeves that day wasn’t the win as much as the way Tax won the Withers. First off, the gelding drew the rail, which is never a good spot. And the innermost post was only part of the troubles he overcame that day.
“He almost fell coming out of the gate,” Reeves remembered. “And then he got in tight in the stretch and still went on to finish well. We were impressed.”
At that point, Tax had earned just 11 Road to the Kentucky Derby points, one from the Remsen and ten from the Withers. If he was to make the gate for the Kentucky Derby, he’d have to prove it to his connections first, and that meant a top finish in one of the final New York preps. Though the logical step for points was the Gotham Stakes (GIII) in March, the practical step for Tax was to wait and head right to the Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) at nine furlongs in early April with a two-month break between races.
“We didn’t want to back up to a mile in the Gotham,” Reeves said. “We also wanted to give him more time between races and build his confidence. We said if he ran first or second in the Wood, then he belonged in the Derby.”
And despite drawing the rail once again, Tax closed strongly into a pretty good pace in the lane in the Wood, but could not hold off the charge by Tacitus and lost by just a length, something that only gave Reeves and his partners and Gargan more confidence in their decision to try the Kentucky Derby.
“Also his jockey (Junior Alvarado) was happy with his last race,” Reves said. “He had a great work (four furlongs in :47.80 at Belmont Park on April 25) so he’s ready.”
In addition to rooting for his own interests on Saturday, Reeves will be rooting for a strong finish for another Derby runner. Tax’s co-owner, Randy Hill, is also represented by another runner in the Derby in Blue Grass Stakes (GII) winner Vekoma, who is owned in partnership with Gastas Stables (Mike Gatsas). At one time, Reeves could have bought into Vekoma himself, but decided he had enough horses and passed on part of the son Candy Ride.
“I’ll be pulling for Randy and Vekoma, too,” Reeves said. “He’s a close friend and we have about 10 horses together, including a bunch of yearlings. I could have had a piece of Vekoma, but at the time we had enough horses; (A Tax-Vekoma exacta) would be great, wouldn’t it?”
The question for Reeves now is, knowing his horse is as prepared as he can be, how prepared is Reeves for his second trip to Louisville for the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports?
“I’m a little bit calmer than I was last time around,” Reeves said with a laugh. “I didn’t know what to expect the first time. I was a sweaty mess all the time with every move the horse made. I was a nervous wreck even when (Mucho Macho Man) was walking the shedrow. Tax is such a cool customer, so he helps make it easy to stay more relaxed this time, too.
“If we win the Kentucky Derby, my horse racing dreams will be completely fulfilled. No horse will ever replace Mucho Macho Man and our first trip to the Derby, but if Tax wins it would be a dream come true. Really though we are just four guys — good friends — who love horse racing and are enjoying this ride.”
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