When trainer Steve Asmussen brought a select squad to Santa Anita for the first time this winter, a couple of well-regarded Kentucky Derby (G1) prospects were among them. Iroquois S. (G3) winner Astrology (A.P. Indy) was already a proven graded commodity, and now Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred TAPIZAR (Tapit) has joined him after a 4 1/4-length triumph in his stakes debut in Saturday's $100,000 Sham S. (G3).
Bet down to even-money favoritism off a 10 1/2-length maiden conquest at Churchill Downs on November 27, Tapizar raced in second for the opening strides in the Sham, but he wasn't content to let Uncle Sam (Tapit) assume the pacesetting role. Tapizar pulled his way forward and took over on the clubhouse turn, getting the first quarter in :22 3/5.
With Garrett Gomez now settling him into a comfortable rhythm up front, Tapizar proceeded to carve out fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:08 4/5 on the lightning-fast track. Uncle Sam stalked in a clear second until the far turn, when Clubhouse Ride (Candy Ride [Arg]) uncorked his bid from off the pace. Clubhouse Ride next took aim at Tapizar, but the leader wasn't stopping. Tapizar, who had maintained a two-length advantage most of the way, drew off in deep stretch and negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:40 1/5.
"I thought I would be laying second," Gomez recapped. "He was a little bit fresher than I had anticipated him to be. He went ahead and settled down as soon as I let him make the lead. He put his ears up and kind of cruised around there.
"I felt like I was loaded. When I started to turn for home, the gate was parked on the outside and there was a lot of stuff going on. When I asked him to pick it up, I couldn't quite get his focus going, but nothing ever got close enough to make him pay attention, either. Hopefully, he has many more gears. He traveled beautiful, and he's a beautiful mover. It was a pleasure to be on him today."
"I was very concerned when they put up the (fractional) times," Asmussen admitted, "but honestly, if I wouldn't have looked up at the board, I wouldn't have been. I thought he was away from the gate very kindly. I watched the break; he broke on his feet but he wasn't being extremely aggressive.
"I think the race track's just yielding extremely fast times. His work the other morning indicated how sharp he was right now, that :47 and change (:47 1/5 for a half-mile on Thursday). We want him to be handy, and I think now, keeping him healthy, if he can go far enough, and keep improving with the distances, are the questions we have."
Tapizar paid $4.20, $2.80 and $2.10 while spearheading the $1 exotics -- $6.60 (exacta) and $18.90 (4-1-3 trifecta). Clubhouse Ride, the 7-2 third choice, returned $3.40 and $2.20.
Jockey Patrick Valenzuela was pleased with the effort of Clubhouse Ride, who was himself five lengths clear in second.
"We ran a good race," Valenzuela said. "The track is favoring speed and that horse (Tapizar) went out there pretty fast and kept running. I was very happy with the way Clubhouse Ride ran. He's (Tapizar) the speed favorite on the racetrack, and for him (Clubhouse Ride) to close that much ground and almost get to the leader at the top of the lane...the leader just kept rolling."
Anthony's Cross (Indian Charlie) collared Uncle Sam late for third by a half-length, yielding $2.60 at 5-1, and Pride of Silver (Badge of Silver) trailed throughout.
Tapizar improved his record to 5-2-0-1, $105,632. The bay colt, who has raced exclusively around two turns, took some time to learn his craft. A fading third in his August 22 debut at Monmouth, he stumbled and unseated his rider back at the Jersey Shore on September 19. Tapizar next showed up at Churchill, finishing fourth behind Anthony's Cross on November 4. The proverbial light bulb came on over the subsequent three weeks, for he was an entirely different specimen when finally breaking his maiden under the Twin Spires.
The Kentucky-bred is out of the winning Deputy Minister mare Winning Call, who has since produced a yearling colt by Zanjero. Tapizar's second dam is Grade 2 queen Call Now (Wild Again), a full sister to stakes scorer Your Call and a half-sister to Grade 1-winning millionaire and sire Olympio (Naskra). This is the black-type rich family of Grade 1 winners Paddy O'Prado (El Prado [Ire]), Cuvee (Carson City) and Pyro (Pulpit), who was himself once a top Derby candidate for Asmussen, but wound up eighth behind Big Brown in 2008.
Asmussen will keep Tapizar at Santa Anita.
"Absolutely," the trainer said. "With the races that he ran at the end of Churchill, I thought he was ideal for the (three-year-old) series that's here. He had two-turn races in him and he could just stay at two turns and just try to continue on.
"The horse gives us a lot of confidence in that he can do more. He's talented, but there's a lot of kid to him, a lot of playfulness in him."