Tapit Trice Could Give Pope Breakthrough Score

June 9, 2023

Tapit Trice gallops at Keeneland before leaving for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby (Courtney Snow/Past the Wire)

NYRA Press Office

ELMONT, N.Y.— Whisper Hill Farm owner Mandy Pope has invested significantly in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing, primarily in the market for broodmares with world-class pedigrees. In Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, she will seek a breakthrough triumph with a horse she purchased as a yearling in $1.3 million acquisition Tapit Trice.

Pope is best known for purchasing dual Champion Female Sprinter Groupie Doll [$3.1 million], 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace [$10 million] and soon to be enshrined Hall of Famer Songbird [$9.5 million] to add to her broodmare band. All three have visited four-time Belmont Stakes producing stallion Tapit – the sire of Tapit Trice. 

Co-owned by breeder Gainesway Stable, Tapit Trice enters the “Test of the Champion” off a troubled seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs. The effort ended a four-race win streak over as many racetracks, which included triumphs on the Derby trail in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 8 at Keeneland, where he defeated Verifying after a thrilling stretch duel, and the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs. 

Tapit Trice at the Keeneland September Sale (Keeneland Photo)

Although Tapit Trice is not a Whisper Hill homebred by Tapit like many of Pope’s racing prospects, she said the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is, “a great example of what we’ve done in buying horses.”

“We did a lot of shopping and looking at the horses that we’re available at Keeneland. He was the one that I just really zeroed in on,” recalled Pope. “I loved him physically and mentally. I also trusted Gainesway to know that they did a good job in raising him. It was awesome that they bought back in. His brain is very good and he’s very level headed, which helps him.”

Todd Quast, general manager of Whisper Hill Farm, echoed Pope’s sentiments.

“He really stood out amongst the horses that we looked at and we don’t buy a lot of [yearlings] at the sale,” Quast said. “We might buy 5-10 tops every year. Mandy was very, very high on him and I liked him as well. I was hoping we would pay a little less for him, but the market is what the market is. We’re extremely happy to have him.”

Tapit Trice certainly has plenty on his side leading up to Saturday’s engagement. He is by Tapit, who produced Belmont Stakes winners Tonalist [2014], Creator [2016], Tapwrit [2017] and Essential Quality [2021] while also producing Constitution – a Belmont Stakes producing stallion in his own right as the sire of 2020 winner Tiz the Law. 

Additionally, he is conditioned by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled four winners of the prestigious race, including the aforementioned Tapwrit. On the bottom side of his pedigree, Tapit Trice is out of the three-time stakes-winning mare Danzatrice whose Pletcher-trained sire Dunkirk finished second in 2009 Belmont Stakes behind Summer Bird. 

“I don’t think there’s any question that he can go the distance,” Pope said. “Hopefully, he’ll get a better trip than he did in the Derby and it sets up for that closing punch that he has.” 

Quast noted the horse’s large stride as his most effective weapon in getting the endurance-testing 1 1/2-mile distance. 

The tenacious Tapit Trice victorious over Verifying in the Toyota Blue Grass (JennyPhoto/Past The Wire)

“He’s a big, powering horse that takes him a while to get going,” Quast commented. “In the Derby, we drew inside [post 5] and it was frustrating for him being down there. He couldn’t get out in the straightaway the first time, couldn’t get out into the first turn, couldn’t get out down the backside and then when he finally gets out, he had too much left to do. I don’t see the Belmont being that way with only nine horses.”

Tapit Trice drew post 2 of nine contenders for the Belmont Stakes, but drawing an inner post does not concern Quast this time around. 

“That’s OK because it’s a longer race and hopefully we can get a better trip,” Quast said. “His high-cruising speed is what we need to have. He needs to be able to get into that gear and go on. In the Blue Grass, when Verifying bumped him a couple of times, he showed he can keep going, he just has to be able to get in that stride.”

Quast commented on the legacy that Tapit has developed in being a prominent Belmont Stakes-producing sire. 

“We have a lot more distance in the Belmont and being a Tapit, it’s well documented how well they’ve done in the Belmont,” Quast said. “He’s got help on the mare side too with Dunkirk. He is a Tapit in that he can be a little headstrong every now and then, but he’s very smart. After he won the Blue Grass, he kind of woke up a bit. He’s doing a little more showing off, in a good way, as he gets older. The Classics are huge and I do think the Belmont is coming up as one of the best races this year in terms of depth and quality.”

Tapit Trice gets the victory and the Derby points in the Tampa Bay Derby (SV Photography)

Tapit Trice will be ridden by Luis Saez, who guided dual Champion and Tapit progeny Essential Quality to victory in the 2021 Belmont Stakes. Although best known for being a frontrunning rider, Saez and Tapit Trice fit each other quite well according to Quast. 

“He’s a good physical rider and sometimes Tapit Trice needs to be reminded to get into it and get going,” Quast said. “As we’ve gotten him into more races he doesn’t need that as much, but I think that’s where Luis fits him well. He never gives up on him either. He knows that kick is coming, you just have to put him in the position or get the position to be able to do it. They fit each other to a ‘T.’”

For Pope, an elusive triumph in an American Classic would be a special one. 

“I want to say it would be the icing on the cake, but there’s a lot of icing out there to be had,” Pope said. “It definitely would be at the top.”

@Tracking_Trips nice call Jon

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