Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Tapit Trice shows grit for Pletcher

December 19th, 2022

Two-time Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning trainer Todd Pletcher already has Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Forte on his roster of 2023 Derby contenders. But Pletcher’s bench is deep, and he recently picked up another possible Derby player when Tapit Trice broke his maiden.

Tapit Trice debuted in a one-mile maiden special weight on Nov. 6 at Aqueduct and closed a lot of ground in the final furlong to finish third, beaten 2 1/2 lengths. This promising effort stamped Tapit Trice as the favorite to win an identical event last Saturday at Aqueduct, and Tapit Trice displayed impressive tenacity to rally from seventh place and prevail by a neck in 1:39.05.

Tapit Trice is a son of three-time leading sire Tapit, who counts Belmont (G1) winner Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit, and Essential Quality among his progeny. Tapit Trice’s dam is the three-time stakes-winning route racer Danzatrice, herself a daughter of Belmont runner-up Dunkirk, so it’s safe to say Tapit’s Trice is bred to run long. The 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby might even be too short for the gray colt, who looks like the type to thrive over 1 1/2 miles in the Belmont.

Another maiden winner at Aqueduct last week was Kool Kathmandu, who nabbed a six-furlong maiden special weight on Friday. Coming off a third-place finish on debut, the gray gelding carved out splits of :22.83 and :46.97 before drawing off with authority to score by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:12.76. Charlton Baker conditions the son of Frosted.

Down at Oaklawn Park, the fourth time was the charm for Communication Memo. Placed in his first three starts on the Kentucky circuit while competing against classy colts like Loggins and Victory Formation, Communication Memo was much the best in a one-mile maiden special weight on Friday, tracking the early tempo before pulling away to beat pacesetter Rocket and Roll by four lengths in 1:39.14. The son of hot young sire Bolt d’Oro is progressing in the right direction for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Not far away at Fair Grounds, Natural Harbor parlayed a couple of defeats at Horseshoe Indianapolis into a decisive victory in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Friday. Dashing to the front through quick fractions of :21.71 and :45.11 did little to tire the Pennsylvania-bred son of Munnings, who led by four lengths passing the eighth pole before holding on to score by two lengths in 1:11.14. You can argue Natural Harbor’s pedigree might be a little speedy for traveling 1 1/4 miles, but there’s no doubt this Tom Amoss trainee has talent.

Down at Gulfstream Park, Aaraj entered the spotlight with a confident triumph in a Saturday maiden special weight. As a son of Belmont runner-up Commissioner out of a mare by stamina source Uncle Mo, Aaraj is bred to run long, but the Jose D’Angelo trainee nevertheless showed enough speed over six furlongs to set fractions of :22.60 and :46.03 and pull clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:11.82. Stretching out in distance should only improve his form.

Also at Gulfstream, Emperor’s Appeal employed pace-tracking tactics to nab a one-mile maiden special weight on Friday. The son of Belmont winner Empire Maker raced in third place behind splits of :24.43, :47.74, and 1:13.09 before finishing up resolutely to win by half a length in 1:38.37, improving off his third-place debut over the same track, distance, and class level on Nov. 13. Brian Lynch conditions Emperor’s Appeal.

We’ll wrap up with a quick mention of Devil Among Us, who set fractions of :21.91 and :44.00 on his way to victory by 3 1/2 lengths in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Friday at Los Alamitos. The son of Ministers Wild Cat was beating California-bred rivals, but did so decisively in the time of 1:09.82 and may have upside for trainer Phil D’Amato.