Edited from a NYRA press release
Tap the Admiral spent the winter of 2001 battling ordinary horses in common races over Aqueduct's inner dirt track. He picked up a check here and there, but after losing his first 10 starts, had the look of a horse that was destined for a life in cheap claiming races. Then again, expectations on this son of Pleasant Tap were never high to begin with. But before sending Tap the Admiral to the bottom maiden claiming ranks for good, his trainer, Del Carroll II, entered him in a turf race at Belmont Park. Tap the Admiral missed winning his grass debut by a mere nose. He was 35-1.
A little more than two years after his racing career took an unexpected but welcomed 180-degree turn, Tap the Admiral starts as one of the major players in Friday's grade II $150,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap. He is also a major threat to end Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott's recent domination of the Baruch.
Mott has won the nine-furlong Baruch in each of the last three summers and four times in the last five years. In the hopes of keeping his Baruch winning streak alive, Mott entered defending champion Del Mar Show along with the multiple stakes winning Patrol.
Friday's eight-race card is scheduled to feature the first turf races of the meet. Grass racing at Saratoga was cancelled on both Wednesday and Thursday after heavy rains hit the Adirondack area Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
Tap the Admiral, a 5-year-old, has never been better. He owns two wins from three starts in 2003 including Churchill Downs' Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on July 5th. The Firecracker was Tap the Admiral's first graded stakes win in a 27-race career. Overall, he has banked nearly $450,000.
"To be honest, he's always had a can-do attitude," said Carroll, who trains Tap the Admiral for Pont Street Stable. "He's always believed he can do it. Physically, he matured a lot from his 3-year-old season to his 4-year-old season. That attitude and desire was always there, he just needed time for his body to catch up. "He loves to trains, loves the game and has a big heart. He makes my job easier."
Carroll had many horses that made his job easier during the 1980s and early 1990s. Among them were stakes winners Ghazi and Weekend Surprise. Recently, however, Carroll's operation has lacked that "big horse." Sure, he's had his share of New York-bred allowance-caliber horses over the last few seasons, but none of them have come close to equaling Tap the Admiral's ability.
"Everyone knows this game runs in cycles--it's hit or miss," Carroll said. "You can't do it without the stock. We had some nice horses during the 1980s. I'm just glad to be back around with a player."
Tap the Admiral, who drew post 5 under jockey Jean-Luc Samyn, is aiming for his second nine-furlong victory. He owns victories on turf courses ranging from firm to yielding and can adapt to any kind of pace scenario.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin comes into the Saratoga meet off an unbelievable showing at Belmont Park where he won 19 races with 44 starters. One of his rare losers at the meet was Bernard Baruch-entrant Trademark, second in the grade III Poker.
A 7-year-old South African-bred, Trademark was making his U.S. debut in the Poker. He raced close to the pace under jockey Eibar Coa and fell just a half-length short to War Zone, a Bobby Frankel-trained runner. Prior to shipping to the U.S., Trademark raced in his native country and in the United Arab Emirates. Although he went winless in seven starts in Dubai this winter, Trademark was hardly disgraced while battling classy horses including international superstar Ipi Tombe, Curule, Northern Rock and Nowrass.
"He's held good company all his life," said McLaughlin at Belmont Park last Sunday. "I couldn't believe he was 13-1 in the Poker; he really ran a giant race. War Zone had a little more momentum and just got up.
"He came out of the race in good shape. I'm concerned that he is coming back on too short a rest. He's got three weeks. I'd rather have four." Trademark drew post 9.
Claiborne Farm won the Bernard Baruch nine years ago with two-time Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Lure. Claiborne has apparently bred another talented turf horse in Patrol, who won the Dallas Turf Cup Handicap in his last start.
Patrol, a four-year-old, has won six of nine starts on the turf. A graded stakes victory, however, has eluded the son of Lear Fan thus far. Still, there might be a good chance that both Mott and racing fans have yet to see the colt's best.
"Obviously, he's always been a talented horse," Mott said. "I would like to think he has more to offer. As he's matured he's gotten better."
He's also learned he doesn't have to outrun a speeding bullet in the early stages of his races. As a 3-year-old last year, Patrol knew only one way to go: get to the front and run as fast as possible. This year, however, Patrol has won two of three appearances coming from slightly off the pace. He still has a great cruising speed. Now, he has learned to harness it.
"Time and racing usually help a horse that wants to run away," Mott said. "Generally, headstrong horses will learn to relax with racing experience. But you've got to give them the chance to do it. You have to make an attempt to get them to settle."
Patrol's talents will make him one of the horses to beat in Friday's Bernard Baruch. A soft course, however, will hurt his chances according to Mott. "I don't think a soft course suits him,"
Mott said. Like Patrol, Del Mar Show is also hindered on soft ground. A son of Theatrical, Del Mar Show has lost two races at odds of 2-1 or less since winning his six-year-old debut in April convincingly.
One loss was in Pimlico's grade II Citgo Dixie on Preakness Day, May 17th. The other was a third-place finish behind Perfect Soul and Strut the Stage in Woodbine's Grade 2 King Edward. Perfect Soul and Strut the Stage are arguably Canada's leading turf horses.
"I made a mistake running him at Pimlico," Mott said. "He doesn't like soft ground, but I thought he could win the race anyway. In 20/20 hindsight, we shouldn't have run there. I thought his race in Woodbine was good. He got beat by two good horses." Del Mar Show, who has only started once on Saratoga's turf, drew post 1 under Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey. Mott said he would likely scratch the horse if the course were soft or yielding.
William Sorokolit's Union Place was a solid three-year-old turf horse on the East Coast last year. He finished second in both the National Museum and Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga and the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park before achieving his biggest victory of the year in the Calder Derby (gr. IIIT).
Union Place, however, has not been as effective as a four-year-old. After winning his seasonal debut, a third-level allowance, by a mere nose at even money, Union Place has lost three straight races. The Out of Place colt enters the Baruch off a ninth-place finish in Monmouth's ungraded Elkwood.
"He never had a chance to do anything in the race at Monmouth," said Union Place's trainer, Randy Schulhofer. "He was blocked from the three-eighths pole to the wire. We know he likes the course here and he was a good 3-year-old. We're taking a shot. Maybe we can get him back on track."
The Field For Friday's grade II Bernard Baruch:
PP, horse, trainer, jockey, weight
1--Del Mar Show, Bill Mott, Jerry Bailey, 118
2--Millenium Dragon, Kiaran McLaughlin, Richard Migliore 113
3--Patrol, Bill Mott, Mike Luzzi, 118
4--Union Place, Randy Schulhofer, Eibar Coa, 114
5--Tap the Admiral, Del Carroll, Jean-Luc Samyn, 116
6--Saint Verre, Allen Jerkens, Jose Espinoza, 112
7--Rock Slide, Neil Howard, Pat Day, 115
8--Slew Valley, Gary Sciacca, Jorge Chavez, 113
9--Trademark, Kiaran McLaughlin, Richard Migliore, 114
10--El Gran Papa, Bobby Frankel, Edgar Prado, 113