Tapwrit took the opportunity presented to him on paper March 11 and turned the $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) into his personal showcase of improving ability.
With unbeaten McCraken missing the 1 1/16 mile-test because of a slight ankle strain discovered last week, many figured the door was open for Tapwrit to take his runner-up finish behind the former in the Feb. 11 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) over the same track and distance and do himself one better Saturday. Despite incurring some traffic trouble around the first turn, the son of Tapit became the latest sophomore to make a play for a starring role in the ever-evolving 3-year-old male picture when he drew clear by 4 1/2 lengths over pacesetter State of Honor in stakes-record fashion. Watch Video
"He just exploded," Aron Wellman, president of co-owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, said of Tapwrit. "That was what we were hoping for, and he delivered."
The even-money favoritism Tapwrit carried as he went to post proved more than justified in what was an otherwise wide-open field for Tampa Bay Downs' signature prep on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The gameness the gray or roan colt showed when he closed late to get runner-up honors in the Sam F. Davis—his first try against graded stakes company— proved a preview of what was to come one month later.
After racing wide early and being caught in close quarters around the first turn, Tapwrit settled in eighth, then seventh, well off the leaders while State of Honor owned a one-length advantage over Sonic Mule through fractions of :23.42 and :46.65. Leaving the half-mile marker, Tapwrit and jockey Jose Ortiz began deftly threading the needle between rivals, picking his way up to the three-path and looking completely full of run coming off the final turn.
Tapwrit flew by State of Honor with casual ease and had no challengers to threaten him as he took aim at the teletimer in the lane, hitting the wire in a stakes record of 1:42.36 over a track rated fast.
"We were looking for a big effort from him," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He won pretty convincingly, and we're very pleased.
"He had kind of a rough trip around the first turn and got shuffled around a little, but he handled it professionally and steadied himself and got in good stride up the backstretch. After he made the lead, Jose kept him occupied down the lane because he has a tendency to idle when he gets ahead. This was everything we could have hoped for."
State of Honor and Wild Shot, the third- and fourth-place finishers in the Sam F. Davis, further reinforced the form of that race by holding for second and third. respectively, in the Tampa Bay Derby. No Dozing was fourth, with Beasley rounding out the top five.
Zion Valley and The Money Monster were both pulled up on the far turn, but walked off under their own power. Stakes winner Sonic Mule faded after chasing the pace early on to cross the wire eighth.
Tapwrit paid $4.20, $3.20, and $2.80 across the board.
Bred by My Meadowview, Tapwrit has had heavy expectations heaped upon him since before he was saddle broke. Out of the graded stakes winning Successful Appeal mare Appealing Zophie, Tapwrit was purchased for $1.2 million by his ownership group of Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Robert LaPenta at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.
His debut outing was a giant falter, as he came home last in a 10-horse field at Saratoga Race Course in September. He has done little wrong since, breaking his maiden next time out at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 6 and then taking the Pulpit Stakes to close out his juvenile campaign.
Tapwrit improved his record to three wins from five starts and $313,902 in earnings and now has 54 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
"This was a breakout race for him," LaPenta said. "I really felt he stepped up today. This is such a tough sport, and a win like this brings you to the moon."