Tacitus Prevails in Roughly-Run Wood Memorial

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 7th, 2019

In one of the roughest races seen on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this winter, favored Tacitus emerged from a battle-weary field to win the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct in hard-fought fashion.

Chaos reigned during the run to the first turn, and even Tacitus did not emerge unscathed. A generally ragged start was made worse when Tax, breaking from the rail, drifted several paths outward at the same time that longshot Joevia—starting from the far outside—sprinted hard for the lead and dropped inward. This caused Tacitus, Final Jeopardy, and Overdeliver to be sharply squeezed, with Final Jeopardy taking the worst of the incident.

Then Tacitus, in an effort to get out from behind Tax, shifted outward and clipped heels with Overdeliver, causing the latter to stumble outward and carry Outshine wide into the first turn. Adding to the chaos, Joevia and Not That Brady soon hooked up in a speed duel and pulled seven lengths clear of the field while posting quick fractions of :23.62, :46.91, and 1:11.46.

The pace was unsustainable, especially over a track that was not playing particularly fast, and this wound up benefiting Tax and Tacitus. After the wild run to the first turn, the two colts had settled into third and fourth place, eyeing from afar the battle up front. When the leaders backed up through a :26.35 fourth quarter-mile, Tax and Tacitus got first run, sweeping to the front early in the homestretch.

For a brief time, it appeared that Tax might have the momentum to hold off Tacitus, but the latter kept plugging away under Jose Ortiz, gradually forging ahead while drifting inward (and putting Tax in tight quarters along the rail) to win by 1 ¼ lengths. The final time of 1:51.23 was respectable over the slow track and produced a 97 Beyer speed figure.
Trainer Bill Mott was pleased with the performance of Tacitus, who emerged on the Derby trail with a similarly late-running victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) last month.

“I thought it was a very good effort,” Mott told the New York Racing Association. “It was very rough on the first turn, but fortunately he came out of it in good order. When he got down the backside, I thought he had a nice, clear run by himself. He kind of got his feet back under him and regrouped a little bit. When it was time to run he started to wear them down.

“It's not a surprise, but you always hope they show up. He’s a young horse and you never know what’s going to happen in any race. Some horses would have been discouraged with what happened on the first turn. They could have backed out of it or decide they didn’t want any part of it after getting roughed up like that.”

Rallying to finish a non-threatening third was the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) winner Haikal, who edged longshot Math Wizard by a half-length. Not That Brady held on for fifth after his pace-setting effort, while the rest finished far back.

By adding the Wood Memorial to his triumph in the Tampa Bay Derby, Tacitus now sits atop the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification leaderboard with 150 points. He’ll enter the Derby undefeated in two starts this season, a profile similar to that of recent Kentucky Derby winners Big Brown (2008), I’ll Have Another (2012), American Pharoah (2015), and Nyquist (2016).

Only time will tell if Tacitus can join those four with a Kentucky Derby victory, but one thing seems certain—he doesn’t mind getting down and dirty in a roughly-run race, which could serve him well against 19 rivals in the Run for the Roses.