In spite of a lung infection that caused him to lose training time, Ronald Winchell's Tapit rallied powerfully in the stretch to get up in the closing yards of the $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct Saturday.
Ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Tapit, trained by Michael Dickinson, came from last place in the field of 11 to nip Master David and Eddington, who battled to the wire in a thrilling finish. The final time was 1:49 3/5.
Tapit ran sixth in the Florida Derby (gr. I) in his last start on March 13, and Dickinson said the gray son of Pulpit
–Tap Your Heels (by Unbridled) "wasn't in peak condition" after leaving Florida with a significant lung infection. He didn't have his first published workout until April 5.
"Believe me, I am as surprised as anyone," Dickinson said. "He came out of Florida with a fairly significant lung infection. He only recovered a few days ago. He was not in peak health or in great condition. I would have been happy with a good third or even a fourth."
Tapit won by a half-length with Master David a nose in front of Eddington, who was third. The result was significant for graded stakes earnings, which figure to play a big role in which horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). First prize was $450,000, second $150,000 and third $75,000.
Value Plus and Sinister G vied for the early lead, going :23 3/5 and :47. Value Plus eventually edged to the front after completing six furlongs in 1:11 2/5, but as the field neared the eighth pole, Master David along the rail, and Eddington, Swingforthefences and on the extreme outside, Tapit, inhaled the leader.
The four battled to the finish with Swingforthefences fading late and Tapit coming best of all.
Tapit was taken back early to trail and advanced while four wide on the final turn. He responded to left-handed urging in the stretch, prevailing in the long run to the wire.
Swingforthefences was fourth by 4 1/4 lengths over Royal Assault. They were followed by Value Plus, Little Matth Man, Cuba, Consecrate, Sinister G and Hornshope.
It was Tapit's third win in four starts. The Laurel Futurity (gr. III) winner in November in impressive fashion, he was sent off at odds of 5-1 after his disappointing Florida Derby try.
Tapit, who was bought by deceased owner Verne Winchell and now races for son Ronald Winchell, increased his career earnings to $549,800. He was a $625,000 Keeneland buy in September 2002.
"It's hard to explain," Winchell said. "I want to dedicate it to (my father). It was one of the last horses that he bought."
Trainer Bobby Frankel said he had Master David ready to run a big race because he needed graded stakes earnings.
Master David and Eddington both rated just off the early pacesetters and fought gamely in defeat.
"He's in the Derby," Frankel said of Master David. "He ran great today and I'm very happy with him. He hasn't been out in two months. He's not a great workout horse, so with all that in mind, I thought he ran really a great race. I think he got beat because he didn't see the other horse on the outside.
"The winner is a very nice horse. He ran hard, but I am happy with where we are at. He's a tough little horse, not as big as some of the other ones. But he gave it everything he had. "
Tapit paid $12.70, $6.60 and $4.80. Master David returned $5.10 and $3.30. Eddington's show was $3.50.