Once again Tony's Tapit put himself in a position to lose. Once again Tony's Tapit, the overwhelming favourite, hurdled those obstacles and won Sunday's $50,000 one-mile Count Lathum Handicap at Century Mile.
"He had a lot to overcome," said trainer Jim Brown. "But good horses will overcome those kind of things."
'Those kind of things' include another slow start out of the starting gate, a tepid early pace, and a six-wide journey for most of the one-mile trip. But the end result - a length and a half victory over the late running Bodemonster - once again stamps Tony's Tapit as the top local horse for the $125,000 September 11 Canadian Derby.
That's even if Brown says the horse he really fears in the Canadian Derby is Monday's Manitoba Derby champion Uncharacteristic, who upset 1-5 heavy favourite Myopic, trained by Robertino Diodoro.
"Uncharacertistic and Tony's Tapit are both in pretty good form right now," said Brown. "Uncharacteristic isn't quite as seasoned as my horse but he's gotten real good in Vancouver. He'll be the one to beat," surprisingly, said Brown, given that Uncharacteristic was claimed for just $8,000 last fall and that Tony's Tapit has now won four races in a row and seven of his last nine appearances. "Uncharacteristic has the running style that will help him in the Canadian Derby," said Brown. "He can sit off the pace like my horse."
Uncharacteristic did just that in the mile and an eighth Manitoba Derby, getting away in sixth position and then riding the rail almost the entire race before duelling in the stretch with Myopic, who had set a pressured pace from the outset. Uncharacteristic won by a length and a quarter. It was 10 lengths back to the third-place finisher Warrior's Hero. Diodoro said Myopic is now heading to Edmonton to prepare for the Canadian Derby as well.
But back to the Count Lathum and Tony's Tapit's troubled trip which started when he acted up in the paddock and again in the starting gate and for the first time at Century Mile had to be roused and asked hard. "It was a rough trip but I thought it was a good race for him," said Brown. "I was very happy with him."
Brown said he isn't concerned that Tony's Tapit hasn't broken sharp in his last three races. "Not worried," said Brown succinctly after Tony's Tapit hopped out of the starting gate and got away last. Tony's Tapit's jockey Enrique Gonzalez isn't worried either. "He's a very easy horse to ride. He just lopes along until I ask him to run. When I say 'Go,' he goes," said Gonzalez.
Because of Tony's Tapit's slow start, Gonzalez wound up five wide around the first turn and down the backstretch. "Enrique had to wrestle with him at that point," said Brown. "Tony's Tapit was getting a little anxious." Just as worrisome was that Tony's Tapit was running at the back of the pack against a luke warm early pace with the first quarter going in just 24.60 and the half mile in 48.16.
But that proved to not be much of a problem either. Gonzalez asked Tony's Tapit for some run around the final turn and he responded nicely surging to the lead and then holding off the late bid by Bodemonster, who is still much in the Canadian Derby picture himself. Last as the field exited the final turn, Bodemonster got rolling down the stretch and was eating up the ground. Another quarter of a mile is only going to help him in the Derby.
"Bodemonster ran awesome," enthused trainer Rick Hedge. "He runs a little better each time and that's a good thing. After the wire he went by Tony's Tapit. Bodemonster is going to love more ground."
Hedge doesn't know what Bodemonster's plans are leading up to the Derby. "There's an allowance race for three-year-olds going a mile and an eighth in the middle of this month. Maybe we'll go in there and hope it fills."
Brown isn't sure of his plans either. "We'll give it a week or 10 days before we decide but we might just go straight into the Derby. He came out of the race real good."
The Count Lathum was the third straight race that Tony's Tapit has had a troubled trip. In the June 20 Western Canada he was squeezed away from the gate and also got away last. Then he had to overcome traffic problems when he was climbing over horses. But Tony's Tapit overcame all that and won by five and a quarter lengths.
In his next start - a July 11 allowance race - Tony's Tapit walked out of the gate and got way behind. But, of course, Tony's Tapit won that one too - this time by six and three-quarter lengths. This time, though, Tony's Tapit won the Count Lathum by just over a length and this time he did not win eased up. It's five weeks away but the Derby just got a little more interesting.
There was one other stakes race on Sunday at Century Mile: the one-mile $50,000 Sonoma for three-year-old fillies. Sheltered Bay won that one. Fairly easily. Going wire to wire, Sheltered Bay broke like a shot. "She's fast," said trainer Craig Smith. "Especially out of the gate. That first jump on Sunday - and I've watched the replay 10 times - was incredibly quick. She broke a length on top. She always puts herself in a good position because she is so fast."
Getting the first quarter in 24.10 seconds and the half in 47.58 - both faster fractions then what the boys did in the Count Lathum — jockey Rico Walcott was able to get Sheltered Bay to relax down the backstretch when she let Count On It and Shannon's Secret get closer. But Sheltered Bay, who won the June 20 Chariot Chaser in her previous start, was just toying with them and won by a length and three-quarters over She Likes to Party, who had a perfect trip.
Smith said he got a little worried at the three-eighths pole. "I didn't know how much she still had left and she looked at the starting gate which was parked on the outside fence. "But Rico knew how much she had left and he said he wasn't worried at all. Rico said he was very happy with her. He said she did everything right after the gate opened. He asked her to pick it up and she picked it up. She also galloped out very strong. I always focus on how a horse gallops out past the wire and she galloped out real strong."
Smith said the fear was that Sheltered Bay is so fast that there was a danger of her getting speed crazy. "Getting her to settle down is the biggest thing. I take her with the pony every day she goes to the track. She's a nervous filly with a soft mouth but the grooms and exercise rider have done a good job to settle her and rate a little bit. And Rico put on a clinic the way he got her to relax."
Sheltered Bay, who has now won $71,497 in just four races, has been a steal for Smith, who bought her for just $1,500 as a weanling at the Keeneland November Mixed Sale. "She was small but she looked athletic. Quick and athletic."
Smith then put her in the Alberta Yearling Sale hoping to get somewhere around $15,000. "That's what I thought she would bring because of her breeding. She's by Gemologist out of a stakes winning mare. But she only brought $4,500. My brother, Steve, was the last one to bid and he got her. Steve (Indyrock Racing) then partnered up with Jamie Graham (Graham Thoroughbreds) and Keith Johns (True North Stable). For whatever reason, nobody else wanted her which was great for the owners and I."
Smith has no plans for Sheltered Bay. "I don't like to make plans until I see who the horse is doing after the race. She came back in good shape and she looked great Monday morning. She wasn't near as tired as I would have expected."
STOCK REPORT - The youngsters get the limelight this weekend with both the Princess Margaret for two-year-old fillies and the Canadian Juvenile for two-year-old colts and geldings headlining Friday's card.
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