The $125,000 Canadian Derby is months away but one three-year-old - Tony's Tapit - has already established himself as the top local sophomore off his recent victory in the Western Canada Handicap at Century Mile. "A monster; an absolute monster," gushed trainer Dave Nicholson of the sophomore owned by Kirk Sutherland and trained by Jim Brown.
It's hard to argue. A million things happened to Tony's Tapit in the June 20 Western Canada that would have stopped most horses. But Tony's Tapit is showing he is definitely not 'most' horses.
Squeezed from the gate, Tony's Tapit, who was bet down to even money, got away last in the six-furlong $50,000 stake. Then he had nowhere to go - surrounded on all sides - down the backstretch. Under a very tight hold by jockey Enrique Gonzalez, Tony's Tapit found a seam but once he got through that maze he still had three other horses in front of him.
Again Gonzalez had to check Tony's Tapit, who was running over horses. Again, this time at the top of the stretch, he found another hole when Dad's Legacy tired - splitting Dad's Legacy and the hard knocking Bang On. Right there it was over. Tony's Tapit romped by five and a half lengths.
"He grabbed the bit and wanted to run off," said Brown, low-keyed and humble and who has won 576 races in his career. Once he got clear there was no stopping him."
For that matter only a brick wall could have stopped him. "I couldn't believe it," said Sutherland. "It seemed like just took off and that was it. If he's got a few more bullets we could have some fun with him."
Sutherland said he bought Tony's Tapit privately from 'Papa' Jose Silva in March for an undisclosed price in Phoenix, Arizona. He bought him with one thing in mind - the September 11, 10-furlong $125,000 Canadian Derby. "I'm not saying what I paid for him but after the Western Canada I got offered $100,000 and turned it down. I was looking at buying a Derby horse," said Sutherland, who has had horses with Silva for years.
"We may have found one. Jose kept saying he had just such a horse. 'I got one. I got one,'" Silva kept telling me," said Kirk, who is part of the famous chuckwagon family. Kirk was the 2014 world champion and won the Calgary Stampede in 2016. His brother Kelly Sutherland, nicknamed 'The King' is a 12-time world champion and a 12-time winner of the Calgary Stampede.
"I had Jim look take a look at Tony's Tapit. He liked what he saw but I still wanted to see if he could run a distance. After he ran second in the mile and a sixteenth (March 12) Turf Paradise Derby - beaten by just three-quarters of a length - and showed he could go a distance he was mine. We were looking at buying him earlier but after what he did in the Turf Paradise Derby we showed a little more interest."
Tony's Tapit has now won five of his last seven starts. The only two times he didn't win in that streak was the Turf Paradise Derby and an allowance race when he finished third - defeated by just a head for it all."
What's next for Tony's Tapit hasn't been decided. "There's a seven-furlong allowance race on July 11 which might be a good prep for the August 1 Count Lathum where they are running a mile," said Brown, who has been training for 32 years. After that we may run in the Manitoba Derby. Or maybe we just stay here. We'll take it one race at a time but the Derby is definitely in the back of our minds."
"He's definitely got some talent," said Brown, who used to race in Vancouver but came to Edmonton three years ago when Century Mile opened for the opportunity to run on a mile track. "The mile track offers a lot of different distances that you can run. You can run four and a half furlongs, five furlongs, five and a half furlongs, six furlongs, six and a half furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile, a mile… There are lots of options. It's easier to develop a horse if you find the right distance the horse wants to run."
Asked what his best horse has been, Brown, who used the Mexico City born Gonzalez several times in Vancouver - he's a real good rider - quickly said "Hopefully I haven't had him yet. But Tony's Tapit is one of the better ones I've had. He certainly has the most potential," said Brown who campaigned Catahoula Rose, who ended up winning $250,000 including the Princess Margaret Stakes in Calgary.
Easy to gallop, train and work around, Tony's Tapit, a dark bay with a little white on one hind leg, certainly showed he will run long and handle the Derby distance with his Western Canada victory. "He likes the air here in Edmonton and everything else," said Sutherland. "I'm sure they will be bringing in some big horses for the Derby but I like what we have right now."
STOCK REPORT - Another three-year-old also put his name into the Derby conversation: Jumeirah Coast. Making a most impressive career debut while going a mile on Sunday night, Jumeirah Coast was 10th and last after a quarter of a mile, raced wide down the backstretch, encountered traffic with three-sixteenths of a mile left to run and still won impressively by a length and three-quarters.
Trained by Craig Smith, who can get his horses ready as good as just about anyone, Jumeirah Coast, who was bet down to 2-1 off some impressive works, got a perfect and patient ride by Rico Walcott who showed once again why he is Alberta's top jockey. Purchased in Kentucky earlier this year for just $4,500 (US) Jumeirah Coast is owned by Dialed in Racing Stable, Graham Thoroughbreds and the Derby Stable.
Not to be dismissed is runner-up Bodemonster, who was with Jumeirah Coast at the back of the pack during the early going, was still eighth with a quarter of a mile to go and was clearly second best for owners Empire Equestrian, who bought him for just $1,500.
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