Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Tapit Shoes wins for Cox
Arguably no trainer is heading into 2023 with a deeper group of Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders than Brad Cox.
Winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Mandaloun, Cox’s roster is highlighted by Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Instant Coffee, Breeders’ Futurity (G1) runner-up Loggins, and Champagne (G1) second-place finisher Verifying. Other noteworthy names include the unbeaten allowance winners Giant Mischief and Victory Formation.
Cox picked up another potential Kentucky Derby player when Tapit Shoes posted an impressive maiden victory on Saturday at Fair Grounds. Exiting a sixth-place finish in his debut racing 1 1/16 miles against maiden special weight company at Churchill Downs, Tapit Shoes improved sharply while tackling the same conditions at Fair Grounds, rallying from seventh place to dominate by 7 1/2 lengths.
The pace of the race decelerated from start to finish, with quarter-mile fractions of :23.84, :23.98, :25.73, and :26.67 preceding a :06.68 final sixteenth. But Tapit Shoes was much the best while racing greenly to the finish line in 1:46.90, and his pedigree (by Tapit out of the Flower Alley mare Awesome Flower) hints he’ll improve with maturity. Keep in mind, Awesome Flower is the dam of Cyberknife, who parlayed a December 2021 maiden victory at Fair Grounds into a strong 2022 season highlighted by wins in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Haskell (G1).
Meanwhile at Aqueduct, the third time was the charm for Classic Legacy. Fifth and second in his first two starts sprinting on the New York circuit, Classic Legacy ran much better in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday, tracking splits of :22.97 and :46.79 before taking command to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:24.82.
At first glance, there’s a lot of speed in Classic Legacy’s pedigree (he’s by Into Mischief out of the Distorted Humor mare Distorted Legacy), but dig a little deeper and stamina becomes apparent. Into Mischief has sired Kentucky Derby winners Authentic and Mandaloun, while Distorted Humor is responsible for classic winners Funny Cide and Drosselmeyer.
Furthermore, daughters of Distorted Humor have foaled such long-winded runners as Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Happy Saver. Distorted Legacy specifically has foaled Woodward (G1) winner Art Collector, a four-time graded stakes winner racing 1 1/8 miles, so Classic Legacy has the breeding to stretch out for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Down in Florida, Prairie Hawk impressed when stretching out for a one-mile and 40-yard maiden special weight on Friday at Tampa Bay Downs. Sixth in his debut sprinting at Gulfstream Park, the son of Curlin clearly appreciated the two-turn trip at Tampa, rating in second place behind a runaway leader before taking command to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:40.84.
Trained by Saffie Joseph, Prairie Hawk was produced by the Indian Charlie mare Princess Ash, previously the dam of Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner and Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up Quip. Curlin is the sire of Preakness (G1) winner Exaggerator, Belmont (G1) hero Palace Malice, and Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic, so there’s plenty of classic breeding in Prairie Hawk’s pedigree.
Joseph picked up another juvenile winner when Swirvin delivered on debut in a Saturday maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park. After carving out an opening quarter-mile in :22.64, the son of exciting young sire Girvin was headed through half a mile in :45.64, but soon battled back to reclaim the lead and hold off a closer by half a length, completing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.60.
Tampa Bay Downs likewise produced a notable Saturday winner as Ship the Goods debuted in a six-furlong maiden special weight and posted a sharp performance. The son of Munnings rated in midfield through splits of :22.46 and :45.83, sprinted the fifth furlong in approximately :12.07 seconds to take command, and then stayed on through a :13.03 final furlong to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:11.14. Christophe Clement conditions Ship the Goods, a Virginia-bred colt who counts the five-time stakes-winning sprinter Boldor as his full brother.