Tapiture gets Ack Ack confidence boost ahead of BC Dirt Mile
Second to Goldencents in last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) as a three-year-old, Tapiture had been largely disappointing this season -- until Saturday's $100,000 Ack Ack H. (G3) at Churchill Downs. By digging in determinedly and staving off the sustained challenge of even-money favorite Viva Majorca, Tapiture ended his losing streak. More important, the Steve Asmussen pupil gained a much-needed confidence boost in the build-up to this year's Dirt Mile at Keeneland.
The well-bred son of Tapit was in a good spot for a form turnaround, considering that he's won or placed in four of five starts at Churchill. His only unplaced effort beneath the Twin Spires came in the 2014 Kentucky Derby (G1), where he wound up 15th. Two of his notable victories have come over this oval, the 2013 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and the 2014 Matt Winn (G3), which was a rebound from the Run for the Roses.
That precedent was invoked in the Ack Ack. Tapiture had gone winless in 2015, with a fifth in the Razorback (G3), and a pair of thirds in the Oaklawn H. (G2) and Lone Star Park H. (G3), before a too-bad-to-be-true eighth in the June 27 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H. (G3). Freshened in the interim, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred was sent off as the 5-2 second choice here, and responded with a gritty display.
Under Ricardo Santana Jr., Tapiture stalked within striking range of 25-1 shot Roman Unbridled through splits of :23.10 and :46.75. As the 32-1 Hat of Jacks made his bid for glory turning for home, Tapiture covered the move and gradually asserted.
Viva Majorca, who had been racing further back, also made eye-catching progress on the far turn. Accosting new leader Tapiture in the stretch, the favorite briefly appeared to have him in his grasp. But Tapiture showed admirable resolve to repel Viva Majorca by a half-length in a final time of 1:35.39 for the one-turn mile.
The Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile will be held around two turns at Keeneland. That could even suit Tapiture better, since he's been competing around two turns for the past two years. Aside from his Churchill stakes wins at a route, the chestnut captured last year's Southwest (G3) and West Virginia Derby (G2). His prior stakes placings have also come around two turns, chief among them the 2014 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita. He warmed up for that engagement with a best-of-the-rest effort behind track record-setting Bayern in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2). The Ack Ack promises to set him up similarly well.
The result in the $175,000 Lukas Classic was much less formful, as 12-1 shot Geothermal subdued 6-5 favorite Departing.
Trained by Steve Margolis, Geothermal was offered for a $50,000 tag here in May, finishing third on the turf, but the six-year-old gelding was subsequently on the upgrade. He was coming off a near-miss to Ulanbator in his stakes debut in the July 18 Michael Schaefer Memorial, and took another step forward here. Geothermal was reserved in sixth early by Robby Albarado, while front-running Abraham carved out splits of :23.32 and :47.82.
The prompting Ulanbator put his head in front at the six-furlong mark in 1:12.42, but Departing was cruising alongside, and soon took over. Geothermal was also on the move, however, and the blinkered gray rolled right up to Departing. Although the favorite tried to mount a response, his effort was short-lived. Geothermal forged ahead by 1 1/2 lengths, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.93.
Departing was unable to resist the winner, despite the fact that Geothermal needed :12.82 to negotiate the final furlong. Thus Departing was beaten as the 6-5 favorite in this race for the second straight year. In 2014, though, he settled for runner-up honors behind the classy Cigar Street. Departing again consolidated his status as a frustrating horse to follow.
To end on a more positive note, Saham overcame a pedestrian early pace to go last to first in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup (G3) for sophomores on the turf. The 12-1 Watchyourownbobber was allowed to dictate through fractions of :25.03 and :50.54. Syntax applied token pressure through six furlongs in 1:15.11, but Watchyourownbobber obviously had enough left to box on down the lane.
Meanwhile, Saham was improving his position rounding the far turn, and the Brendan Walsh trainee outkicked his rivals. Surging past a stubborn Watchyourownbobber by three-quarters of a length, the Lemon Drop Kid colt covered the firm-turf mile in 1:37.76.
Nun the Less, the 2-1 favorite, got shuffled back to last at an inconvenient stage and never recovered, ending up seventh.
Saham's other stakes score came in the July 25 Crowd Pleaser, restricted to Pennsylvania-breds at Parx. He's also performed creditably in the Transylvania (G3) at Keeneland, where he was demoted from third to fifth, and when fourth in the Centaur last out at Indiana.
Tapiture photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography.