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March 09, 2019

TACITUS PICKS RIGHT TIME TO EMERGE AS TRIPLE CROWN CANDIDATE

by Mike Henry
Lightly raced, Bill Mott-trained Tacitus signals his future is now with Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby victory; Rymska proves best in Hillsborough; Concrete Rose displays grit, class in Florida Oaks; Flameaway returns to Oldsmar with brave triumph; Digital Age arrives in Columbia.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott clearly is not a man in a hurry.

A mere 22 years after his first victory in Tampa Bay Downs’ biggest race, Mott grabbed another Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby triumph. And he did it with Tacitus, a colt with only two starts as a 2-year-old, and one who had not raced since his maiden victory on Nov. 10 at Aqueduct.

“He’s been a big, growthy colt all along, and when we were breezing him in the middle of the summer he was just a big, laid-back horse. We didn’t know what we had until we got into the fall,” Mott said after Tacitus and jockey Jose Ortiz got through late on the rail and powered to a length-and-a-quarter victory from Outshine.

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The realization that he is going to win this thing hits Jose Ortiz, the rider of Tacitus, as the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby wire nears (courtesy SV Photography)

Tacitus, a gray homebred son of Tapit-Close Hatches, by First Defence, racing for breeder-owner Juddmonte Farms, sped the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance in stakes-record time of 1:41.90.

The 7-5 favorite, Win Win Win, finished third in the 11-horse field, with pace-setter Zenden holding on for fourth.

Tacitus paid $19.80 to win as the fifth betting choice in the field. He earned the winner’s share of $210,000 from the $400,000 purse.

A crowd of 10,275 thrilled to the exciting action on a sunny, balmy afternoon. Total wagering handle on the 12-race card was $13,956,020 and change, the second-highest amount in Tampa Bay Downs history.

Two other graded stakes were contested, with 5-year-old mare Rymska and Irad Ortiz, Jr. (Jose’s brother) rallying for a two-length victory from Hawksmoor in the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf and 3-year-old filly Concrete Rose and Julien Leparoux holding off Blowout by a half-length in the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, also on the turf.

In the day’s other stakes, last year’s Grade III Sam F. Davis winner and Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby runner-up, Flameaway, outgamed Killybegs Captain through the stretch to post a half-length victory in the $100,000 Challenger Stakes under Jose Ortiz, and Digital Age and Irad Ortiz, Jr., posted a head victory from Forever Mo in the $75,000 Columbia Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf.

In the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, Jose Ortiz managed to find the inside early from the No. 10 post position and raced in mid-pack up the backstretch, while Zenden led Sam F. Davis winner Well Defined and the others through taxing fractions.

“He (Tacitus) broke very well and gave me a lot of choices by the first turn,” Ortiz said. “When the 9 horse (Dunph) went out, I decided to go in and follow the 1 (Admire) because I thought he had a good chance to win.

“I took a lot (of dirt), but the dirt doesn’t stick as much here as some other tracks, so I think it was good for my horse. He’s a little green still, but we got a rail trip and it opened up for us.”

A few anxious moments followed, with Outshine and Joel Rosario still looming as a threat, but Ortiz re-engaged the winner.

“He’s a big horse and when he made the lead, he didn’t keep going; he kind of waited a little bit,” the jockey said. “He does everything so easy and I don’t know if he’s given me 100 percent yet (in his three races) – I don’t think so.”

Ortiz was also capturing his second Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, having won the 2017 edition with Tapwrit. Mott had won the race in 1997 with Zede. “I’ve been waiting a long time,” Mott said with a big grin.

“We’ve always liked this horse and thought he could be a horse that would be on the (Kentucky) Derby trail,” Mott said. “I liked him a lot better today at the 3/8-mile pole than I did at the 5/8 pole, because it looked like when he was trying to get between horses, I couldn’t tell if he was maybe fighting with the racetrack.

“He was climbing a little bit but once he got through between those horses, he really got some confidence and got some momentum. Jose said he actually finished with something left. He got to the lead and maybe started to dog it a little bit, but I thought it was a very good race and a very good education for him.”

The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, and Tacitus earned 50 points, with Outshine earning 20, Win Win Win 10 and Zenden 5.

Michael Trombetta, the trainer of 7-5 favorite Win Win Win, was not overly disappointed after talking to his jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr.

“I want to go back and watch the head-on of the break; Irad said it was a little bit of a tangle out of the gate,” Trombetta said. “I think he was satisfied with the way that he ran. I just think if he could have gotten a little better position early, we might have had more of a favorable outcome. He finished with good energy and just couldn’t quite get it done.”

In the Hillsborough Stakes, the French-bred Rymska, owned by Madaket Stables, Tom Coleman, Team Hanley and Elayne Stables and trained by Chad Brown, overtook the pace-setting Hawksmoor, who was making her final career start and will be bred to Kitten’s Joy.

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Rymska asserts her excellence in the closing stages of the Grade II Hillsborough (courtesy SV Photography)

Rymska won by two lengths in 1:49.18 for the mile-and-an-eighth distance, wsith Hawksmoor staving off Onthemoonagain by a nose for second.

“Irad rode a beautiful race,” winning trainer Chad Brown said. “She got a beautiful trip and she responded well. She’s been laying a little closer her last couple of starts, which I like to see, and she finished great.”

Rymska improved to 7-for-13 in her career. “She broke really well and I let her be forwardly placed early,” Ortiz said. “I thought (No. 1, Phantom Opening) was one of the horses I had to beat, so I just tried to follow her because I knew she was going to take us a long way and when we got to the stretch, I thought I would pick them up.

“Everything worked out perfect. I had plenty of horse when I asked her. Chad (Brown) did a great job with her and she was ready.”

Arnaud Delacour, the trainer of Hawksmoor, had no regrets and offered no excuses.

“She ran her race and it’s a great way to finish her career,” Delacour said. “She (Rymska) had beaten us once last year, so (the result) is kind of logical. She gave it her best shot and ran relaxed and finished very well.”

Hawksmoor, who is owned by Lael Stables, will be bred to 2018 North American leading sire Kitten’s Joy.

Concrete Rose turned in an impressive triumph in the Florida Oaks, carrying top weight of 123 pounds and Leparoux to victory in 1:43.02 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth. Blowout staged a strong rally for second, a half-length ahead of Winter Sunset.

Concrete Rose was making her first start since an unplaced effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November and is now 3-for-4. She is owned by Ashbrook Farm and BBN Racing and trained by George “Rusty” Arnold, II.

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Concrete Rose is determined to get to the wire first in the Grade III Florida Oaks (courtesy SV Photography)

 “This was a big one to get out from under her, to come off a layoff and carrying top weight,” Arnold said. “I was worried because she was a little bit hyper in the paddock, which she’s never been, but she had never shipped, so I think we can handle that when we get back to Keeneland.

“This was a quality bunch. This is going to probably take something out of her, so we might wait until Churchill Downs (for her next start). I’m going to let her tell me. She hadn’t been out in four months, but she is a talented filly and she has acted like a talented filly from Day 1, so we’re very happy with her.”

So was Leparoux. “She put me in the race nicely and we went pretty quick the first quarter, but we slowed it down very good the second part of the race,” the rider said. “She was so relaxed and she does whatever you want with her, so I sat there and made one run and she had a nice kick at the end. She is a nice filly and she was still going at the finish.” 

The Challenger Stakes was a case of déjà vu all over again for 4-year-old Flameaway, who rallied in the stretch after losing the lead to Pelican Stakes winner Killybegs Captain to post a half-length victory. The time was a sizzling 1:41.89 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth, .14 seconds off the stakes and track record.

Jose Ortiz rode Flameaway, who is owned by John C. Oxley and trained by Mark Casse.

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Flameaway turns back the clock a year in the Challenger Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)

Although it was the first victory for Flameaway since last year’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, he finished second in three Grade II events as a 3-year-old: the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the Toyota Blue Grass and the Jim Dandy.

“Somebody was saying this reminded them of the Sam F. Davis (when Flameaway defeated Catholic Boy by a half-length), and we’ve said all along he’s as game as he can be,” Casse said. “We’ve had some issues with him; he actually cracked a rib when we ran him at Parx (in the Grade III Smarty Jones in August), so we gave him a break, and he has come back good and strong.”

Jose Ortiz said the pre-race strategy was to track Killybegs Captain and Jay’s Way early, but Flameaway wanted the lead from the No. 1 post and Ortiz let him go.

“We broke really well and nobody challenged me until the backside, so I let him be there. I think his heart is way bigger when he’s on the lead,” Ortiz said.

The 5-year-old Killybegs Captain, under Samy Camacho, took the lead on the turn for home, but Ortiz got to scrubbing and Flameaway responded in a similar manner to last year’s Sam F. Davis score.

“I knew (Killybegs Captain) has always been a sprinter, so I thought from the 1/8-mile pole to the wire I was going to have a little more than him,” Ortiz said.  

Meanwhile, talk about a flying finish – with Forever Mo seemingly home free in the $75,000 Columbia Stakes on the turf, Irish-bred Digital Age summoned a tremendous burst over the final sixteenth of a mile to snatch the victory.

In the end, it was another victory for the Eclipse Award Champion trainer and jockey last year, Chad Brown and Irad Ortiz, Jr.

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Welcome to the brave new world: Digital Age (No. 8) gets up in the Columbia Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)

A son of Invincible Spirit out of Willow View, by Lemon Drop Kid, the 3-year-old Irish-bred colt Digital Age is owned by Klaravich Stables.

The winner’s time for the 1-mile was 1:36.58. The victory was the second for Digital Age in two career starts, both this year at Tampa Bay Downs. Global Access held on for third in the nine-horse field of 3-year-olds.

“He broke a step slow out of there, so I didn’t panic,” Ortiz said. “He was taking me pretty good down the backside, and he started moving great approaching the turn, so I let him be him.”

Digital Age still had a lot of work to do after Forever Mo, under Samy Camacho, wrested the lead from long-shot pace-setter Global Access. “When I took him out in the stretch I still had to run down everyone, so I probably lost a couple of lengths, but he was working hard,” Ortiz said. “I didn’t know exactly where the wire was, but I knew it was going to be close.”

Reached by telephone, Brown described Digital Age’s victory as “super impressive.

“We’ve liked this horse for a long time, and he showed a brilliant turn of foot down the stretch. He had plenty to do around the final turn and I wasn’t quite sure he’d get there.

“I think this horse will improve as the distance increases, and he is an exciting horse moving forward,” Brown said.

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Sunday also marks the start of Daylight Savings Time, so race-goers should plan accordingly.

The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.