Tiz a Minister, on the mend from a foot bruise a month ago, rebounded for his first graded stakes victory when he rallied from last with an eye-catching drive along the inside in the $100,750 Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) June 2 at Betfair Hollywood Park (VIDEO).
The late-running California-bred son of Ministers Wild Cat was under consideration for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) earlier this spring. But he suffered a foot injury while finishing third in the Snow Chief Stakes April 27 against state-bred rivals when victimized by a slow pace and missed some training time, negating a possible appearance on the first Saturday in May. But observers got an idea of why West Coast fans thought Tiz a Minister could have been dangerous with his big late kick.
Corey Nakatani allowed Tiz a Minister to lag way off the pack as favored Manando forged a strong pace in the Affirmed, a 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track test for 3-year-olds. Still last at the quarter pole with some 13 lengths to make up, Tiz a Minister split horses coming off the turn for Nakatani and found a seam along the inside in the homestretch. The leggy dark bay colt put together a courageous charge under some urging, sweeping past the weakening Manando in deep stretch to win going away by one length in a time of 1:45.79.
Tiz a Minister, trained by Paul Aguirre for the S A Y Racing partnership, posted a 5-1 upset in the Affirmed. He was claimed for $40,000 by Aguirre last Aug. 2 at Del Mar. Tiz a Minister had demonstrated similar closing ability in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park March 9 when he rallied from 16 lengths behind on the far turn to finish third, just one length behind the victorious Hear the Ghost.
The victory was the first in a graded stakes at Hollywood Park for Aguirre since Coconut Girl won the Desert Stormer Handicap (gr. III) in 2004.
"If they give him an opportunity, he'll take it,'' said Aguirre of the winner. "When he was turning for home, I thought he could hit the board. And then at the sixteenth, I was thinking he might get there.
"I told (Nakatani) that was a great Calvin Borel imitation. That ride was definitely the difference between winning and losing."
The 1 1/8-mile Swaps Stakes (gr. II) July 4 could be next for Tiz a Minister.
"I've always had the opinion that he's a middle-distance horse, but we'll absolutely consider the Swaps if everything goes right,'' Aguirre said.
The Bob Baffert-trained Manando, who was keen to get the lead for Martin Garcia from his outside post in the field of eight, led a pressing Broadway Empire through sharp fractions of :23.36, :46.74, and 1:11.30. But he paid for those early splits, weakening in the final furlong as his stablemate, the stalking Den's Legacy, challenged for the lead.
But neither Baffert runner was up to the threat of Tiz a Minister, who registered his first win since taking the one-mile California Breeders Championship on a wet/fast Santa Anita main track Jan. 26. Nakatani used firm handling to bring Tiz a Minister home an impressive winner.
"As good as he was moving, I had them in my sights and all they had to do was come back to him a little bit," Nakatani said. "I knew he was going to put in a tremendous run like he's been doing in the morning. Credit Paul (Aguirre) for what he's done with him. I've been on him in the mornings and I was very confident."
Den's Legacy, the 3-1 second-choice with Garrett Gomez aboard, edged 9-5 Manando for second by three-quarters of a length, with El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) winner Dice Flavor fourth. Then came Just Win Baby, Broadway Empire, Dirty Swagg, and Counting Days.
After his strong effort in the San Felipe, big things were expected from Tiz a Minister in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 6. But in spite of getting a good pace, Tiz a Minister never made an impact on the dominating Goldencents, finishing fourth, 12 1/2 lengths behind. On the Derby bubble after that as far as qualifying for the field, his connections opted to go for the $300,000 purse in the Snow Chief.
Returning to training May 12, Tiz a Minister put in three workouts prior to the Affirmed over Hollywood's synthetic track. In his most recent move May 26, he negotiated six furlongs in 1:13 3/5. He won for the second time over the track following a maiden tally over state-breds last November.
Dahlberg Farms bred Tiz a Minister, who is out of the Cee's Tizzy mare Tiz a Mistress. Tiz a Minister sold for $6,500 as a yearling at Barretts in October 2011.
He improved his career log to 3-4-3 from 13 races with earnings of $420,780.
Carrying 119 pounds, Tiz a Minister paid $12.40, $5.40, and $3. Westrock Stables' Den's Legacy, taken off the Derby trail after finishing sixth last time out in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), put in a good effort to get second, returning $3.80 and $2.80 as the 120-pound high weight. Kaleem Shah's Manando, still in search of his first stakes win, paid $3.80 to show.