Will Derbies be Tapit Trice’s ‘Forte’?

March 16, 2023

Tapit Trice winning a very captivating Tampa Bay Derby. (SV Photography)

“I feel like [Tapit Trice] is still learning, though he got a good education today.” Pletcher said after the race.

By Maribeth Kalinich @50ShadesOfHay

In a very important race before the Kentucky Derby, the colt broke last, was eleventh at the 1/4 pole, ninth at the 1/2, looked pretty hopeless, moved up to seventh. Wait. Fourth in the stretch, big rally, and holy cow he won! 

Sound familiar? No, not Tapit Trice. His papa, Tapit winning the then Grade 1 Wood Memorial. 

In that 2004 race Tapit was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez. Ramon recapped the race for me explaining that he “had to make one of those split-second decisions that would win or lose the race.”

Ramon said Tapit usually ran off the pace and had a great kick for when he had him in the right position and gave him the signal. But getting him in that position required the cooperation of his horse and all the other horses and jockeys on the track. 

In the Wood, Dominguez said he had Tapit relaxed right off the pace and coming off the far turn they were four wide awaiting an opportunity to go around horses and start to come in. “Just as I was about bring Tapit in, Shaun Bridgmohan aboard Swingforthefences made a bold move,” he said.

Dominguez said, “I didn’t want to make a premature move and try to pass Swingforthefences and have no horse left in the stretch,” But he also didn’t want to get stuck on the outside with no time to get into a good position.

The seasoned rider said, “I committed to stay on the outside and gather Tapit behind horses and get him to relax.” 

At the top of the lane, he had plenty of horse, gave Tapit the cue and they got the win. 

I asked Ramon if he saw any similarities between that race and the Tampa Bay Derby. Dominguez said, “I didn’t see the beginning of the race, but I don’t think he the slow start and coming off the pace was by design.” 

I also asked about Tapit Trice going two turns for the first time. 

“The horse seems to be advancing so rapidly, distance is not an issue,” Dominguez said. 

“In my opinion, if he runs well in his next race, he doesn’t even have to win, just run well, he will run in the Derby and do well at the distance. If he wins the Derby, his prospects as a sire would be lucrative.”

Tapit Trice is all a Twitter

Whether you call it a kick, turn-of-foot or a sprint to the finish, Tapit Trice exhibited an exciting finish Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby breaking last and coming from eighth at the top of the stretch to win by two lengths. Will he show that same kick in the Kentucky Derby?

The victory earned the Tapit colt 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

One would think the masses would be impressed. But not so fast. The punters have become the pundits.

Many thought it was an amazing effort by the 3-year-old and applauded the victory of the Todd Pletcher trainee. Many compared the gray to another in the Pletcher barn, Forte, who is likely Derby bound. 

There were reasonable comments regarding the need to mature. All horses as humans are different and mature at different rates. Forte matured faster and could handle the bigger stakes. Apparently, Hall of Fame trainer Pletcher saw that Tapit Trice needed a bit more time before he moved up in class. 

Going from an Allowance Optional Claiming race to a Grade 3 is a pretty big step. However, Tapit Trice won that AOC by eight lengths In a field of ten. It was his second straight win, too. Pletcher saw something in him. 

So did Gulfstream Park who named Tapit Trice the 51st ‘Rising Star‘ for that performance.

Based on his start last Saturday, I’m guessing more gate schooling is in the colt’s future.

As far as running in the Kentucky Derby, in my opinion, Tapit Trice has just as good of a chance as any other contender. Two words: Rich Strike.

Let’s take a look at Tapit Trice’s stats and compare them to Forte’s.

Tapit Trice made his first start two days after Forte won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This was Forte’s fifth start. 

Most colts start out at six or seven lengths. Pletcher must have seen that Tapit Trice liked distance because he started him at one mile and the colt has never run less than a mile. The Tampa Bay Derby was his longest distance at 1-1/16 miles.

Winning on debut at Belmont Park May 27, 2022, Forte followed up with a fourth in the G3 Sanford July 16 and then went undefeated through two Grade 1’s at Saratoga, the G3 Sanford July 16 and the G1 Hopeful Sept. 5. 

Pletcher then gave Forte time to rest and mature with a four month break before his epic start in the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. Forte came off the pace and won by 4-1/2 lengths after a less than smooth start. 

In the time that Forte was off the track, Tapit Trice was honing his skill and racking up wins. 


So how might Tapit Trice handle the 1-1/4 mile and field of 20 in the Kentucky Derby?

The colt can win off the pace by eight lengths. He can win from way behind and rally from last to first. And he broke his maiden by a neck coming from behind off the pace. 

He has run in fields from seven to twelve starters and never run less than one mile. Eight more horses and another quarter-mile will make a difference. 

He started in post 3 in a field of 10, post 1 in a field of 7 and post 6 in a field of 12. So it’s safe to say he is probably better on the rail or the center. If he draws the outside, or heaven forbid, post 20 in the Kentucky Derby it might be a little tricky for Luis Saez to get his colt settled and in position. 

Pletcher has a lot of faith in Saez. 

“Luis [Saez] fits him well. He understands the way he needs to be ridden and he knows he’s not going to come out of the gate quickly, Pletcher said. “[Saez] gave him plenty of time to get going. I feel like [Tapit Trice] is still learning, though he got a good education today. 


The Blue Grass will be a bellwether. Tapit Trice will be running against more experienced horses. Will he have matured enough to have a successful race and be able to move forward to the Kentucky Derby? Only Tapit Trice and Todd Pletcher know the answer to that. 

Tampa Bay

“It took him a while to get on track, but I was very impressed down the lane. He finished up the way we expected him to. He certainly seems like the farther he goes, the stronger he gets,” Todd Pletcher said after the race.  

“The start was a little slow, but as soon as he started to get going, he got big-time position for us. When the dirt started hitting him in the face, he was a little green. But at the half-mile pole, he got going.” said Luis Saez, who was riding Tapit Trice for the first time.

Pletcher commented: “[Tapit Trice has] a big, long stride. Once he got clear down the lane, he really extended himself and I loved the way he finished up. 

“He relished the two turns and the longer he goes, the better he’ll get,” Pletcher said about the Tampa Bay Derby being Tapit Trice’s first try at routing.

“But he’s a horse that I think still needs a little more racing experience to completely put everything together, Pletcher continued. “If he trains accordingly, we’re going to take a strong look at the Blue Grass (G1).”

The known possible starters for the Blue Grass are so far (with trainer): Angel of Empire (Brad Cox); Bourbon Bash (Wayne Lukas); Two Phil’s (Larry Rivelli); Verifying (Brad Cox).

Verifying could make starts in the Wood Memorial or the Arkansas Derby.

Tapit Trice earned a 98 ESF and an 88 BSF. Some say modest numbers and not up to Forte’s but still respectable and improved. 

Forte earned a 106 Equibase Speed Figure, 98 Beyer Speed Figure and 118 TimeformUS Speed Figure for his Fountain of Youth win. 

Forte is likely heading to the Florida Derby. “The Florida Derby is what we kind of talked about going into the Fountain of Youth and everything coming out of the race would indicate that’s what we’ll do,” Pletcher said told the Daily Racing Form the morning after the Forte’s victory. “Two breezes before the race makes sense, and then that will give him five weeks until Churchill Downs.”

There is no doubt Forte is the stronger, more experienced, more mature colt. On paper he is impressive. On the track he is striking. Should he assertively win another prep race he will be the undoubted Derby odds and fan favorite. 

Could Tapit Trice hang in the Kentucky Derby? That is TBD depending on his next race. But after reviewing his stats, if I were Todd Pletcher, and I’m certainly not going to second guess a Hall of Fame trainer, but … I’d run the Tapit colt on the undercard. Give him confidence in a race in which he can excel and not put him in a stampede that could sideline him until summer.

“Yes, the Kentucky Derby is a dream for everyone. I hope we get him back for the rest of the year,” Luis Saez remarked after the win aboard Tapit Trice.

Forte’s sophomore debut victory in the Fountain of Youth. (Lauren King)

A Peek At Pedigrees

Looking at pedigrees of the two 3-year-old colts couldn’t seem less alike. 

Forte is by Violence out of Blame mare Queen Caroline. Violence was sired by Medaglia d’Oro and his sireline traces back to Norther Dancer (CAN) in his fifth generation. 

Queen Caroline’s sire, Blame, can trace his female line through his dam back to Northern Dancer in his sixth generation.

Forte has a cross of Strom Cat and Mr. Prospector. And, if you are going back a bit, Nijinski and Northern Dancer.

Violence, who was also trained by Pletcher, won three of four starts. After winning on debut Violence followed up with a rather messy win in the G2 Nashua.

The Equibase footnotes state: Violence settled into a forward position early down the backstretch, entered the turn from the four path and was the widest off four all having some say in the pace, got set down to a hard drive by midpoint on the turn, bid in earnest as the foursome turned for home, came inward slightly just after spinning into the stretch, brushing with the runner up, went onward for a few strides and came in slightly once more, carrying in VEGAS NO SHOW and making light contact yet again.

Had the rider take corrective action after both incidents, came inward for a third and final time, leading to REALLY SHARP being allowed to shy away towards the rail but with the end result of putting DARWIN in tight quarters and forcing the pilot of that mount to check himself out of the running for good, likewise in addition to all of that forcing the second place finisher to alter course, with everything occurring in the vicinity of the eighth pole, seemed to mind his manners thereafter and edged away, crossing the wire under a hand ride. 

Next start was in a deep field in the G1 CalCup at Hollywood Park. Coming off the pace from mid-pack Violence did his job that day under Castellano.

The Medaglia d’Oro colt’s last race would be a second in the G2 Fountain of Youth 1/2 a length behind Orb, who would go on to win the G2 Florida Derby and the G1 Kentucky Derby, that would be his fifth consecutive victory. 

Tapit Trice was, of course, by the renowned sire, Tapit. 

Tapit Trice’s stellar pedigree doesn’t stop with his sire. His dam, Tap Your Heels, from where he gets his lovely color is the daughter of Unbridled out of Reines de Course mare Ruby Slippers by Niinjisky (CAN). Her dam, Moon Glitter was also a Reines de Course as here, Foggy Bottom.

Nijinsky’s sire was of course, the great Northern Dancer (CAN) out of the Reines de Course mare Natamala.

Tap Your Heels has a cross of In Reality in her third and fourth generations. 

Tapit’s top through his formidable sire Pulpit has a Nijinsky cross in his damsire line. His dam Preach is by Mr. Prospector out of Narrate who is by Honest Pleasure out of State by Nijinsky out of Monarchy with all of the mares are Reines de Course in that line. 

Tapit’s grandsire is the great A.P. Indy out of Seattle Slew. 

Out of the Dunkurk mare Danzatrice, Tapit Trice’s grandsire brings in another dose of A.P. Indy’s qualities plus Unbridled’s line. His granddam, Lady Pewitt, offers a nice balance with the Blushing Groom (FR) and Nureyev lines.

As I previously mentioned, Tapit had a very successful albeit come-from-behind race with jockey Ramon Dominguez.

After winning his debut at Delaware Park Oct. 19, 2003, Tapit won the Laurel Futurity in a similar fashion to the Wood Memorial, but that time Ramon had no surprises blocking his plans. 

These were actually Tapit’s only wins. When he won, he was thrilling to watch. When he didn’t, it was excruciating. Lke his ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. And nineth in the Pennsylvania Derby following, which would be his final race. 

What Tapit lacked on the track he more than made up for in the breeding shed. 

His daughter, Stonestreet Stables’s homebred Pauline’s Pearls out of Dixie Union mare Hot Dixie Chick is a five-time graded stakes winner with earning over $1.8 million. 

Son, Whisper Hill Farm’s homebred Charge It, out of Indian Charlie mare I’ll Take Charge won the G3 Dwyer and was second in the G1 Florida Derby and G2 Gulfstream Park Mile. 

Another son, Godolphin homebred Proxy, out of Include mare Panty Raid, won the G1 Clark at Churchill Downs, was second in the G3 Lecomte, G2 Risen Star, G2 New Orleans Classic and Blame Stakes. He also finished third in the G3Ben Ali and G2 Stephen Foster. 

One thing Tapit Trice did for his elegant gray sire—gave him his 100th Graded Stakes winner. 

Tapit Trice and his happy connections in the Tampa Bay Derby winner’s circle. (Photo by Ben Baugh)

Contributing Authors

MariBeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Past the Wire

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

View Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Great article and you are absolutely right. However your piece is sensible and logical- something that doesn't register with the opposition (who rely on emotion and "siege tactics")

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