Ron Winchell's Kentucky homebred Tapiture put away the field by 4 1/4 lengths to break his maiden in Saturday's Grade 2, $175,200 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. The Steve Asmussen charge grabbed the public's attention while racking up 10 points in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" race and will head to Fair Grounds for his three-year-old campaign.
"He goes to the Fair Grounds from here," Asmussen said when asked if he would head to Fair Grounds or California next.
"We had planned on running him in a maiden race at the beginning of the meet as a prep for this," the trainer added. "It didn't go as planned, but he came out of it good, trained really well and just stayed the course. It's awfully fun to have another nice homebred for the Winchells."
Tapiture raced up close from the start as 19-1 longshot Laddie Boy led the field through an opening quarter in :24 1/5. Tapiture made his way into second, while the leader posted a half-mile in :47 3/5.
"It was pretty crowded going into the first turn," Asmussen stated. "I really liked the way he handled and got good position. Ricardo (Santana Jr.) rode him really well."
The son of Tapit wore down that rival to put up three-quarters of a length in 1:11 4/5 as he emerged with the lead turning for home. Eventual third-place finisher Awesome Sky made a sweeping move around the far turn but couldn't muster anymore energy as he and the rest of the field could only watch Tapiture extend his lead in the stretch. The two-year-old colt drew away under steady urging to cover 1 1/16 miles in 1:43 2/5 over the fast main track.
"My horse is a little green -- he doesn't know how to run yet," Santana said. "He's been waiting to go long. I loved my horse today. I thought I had a big chance. My horse had run three times already and he's learning. I had a lot of confidence in my horse. When I asked him he finished really good."
Laddie Boy held on for second by a neck over Awesome Sky in third and it was another five lengths back to fourth-place finisher Buck Magic. Notability, Arctic Slope, 5-2 favorite Dobra Historia, Culprit and Mygalsal rounded out the order of finish.
"I just think this colt is continuing to improve," said Chuck Peery, trainer of runner-up Laddie Boy. "At the quarter-pole he bobbled a bit and I don't think he really cared for this track that much. But I couldn't be prouder of him. I thought he hung in there after (Tapiture) got by him when a lot of horses would call it a day. He showed me some real intestinal fortitude today."
"He's still in the learning process," said Shaun Bridgmohan, jockey of Awesome Sky. "He's a great big horse that has a bright future ahead of him and he's still learning a lot. I think it was a positive step forward today meeting winners. He's still a maiden but I think he's got a whole lot of improving to do and he's going to be OK."
Tapiture went off as the 3-1 second choice after 6-5 morning-line favorite Almost Famous was scratched the morning of the race. Tapiture returned $8.60 to his backers for the win and now sports a career mark of 4-1-1-2, $140,838.
"He popped a 'stone gravel' -- a stone bruise," said Pat Byrne, trainer of Almost Famous. "It popped out of his coronet band yesterday. He's sound on it and we were able to treat it topically. He was fine this morning. The state vet was here and she thought he was sound. But I know he's not quite 100 percent, and as the day has gone on some infection has been building up in the foot. It's the left-hind foot, and on the outside of the coronet band the abscess has broken, but the abscess is still there.
"So we've got a horse that's not a 100 percent and we've decided we can't take a risk and run him," Byrne added. "It's just bad timing, but unfortunately that's the game. It's a timing thing -- the bottom line is it's a timing thing. It's the kind of thing that happens all the time. If it happened last week or next week, we'd be fine."
Tapiture was second to eventual Hopeful Stakes winner Strong Mandate in his racing debut back on August 17 at Saratoga. Despite not breaking his maiden yet, he just missed by a half-length in his graded debut in the Iroquois at Churchill Downs the following month. The chestnut went back up against maidens over this track on October 27 but lost the lead in the stretch to Culprit and had to settle for third.
Tapiture is out of the winning Olympio mare Free Spin, making him a full brother to stakes heroine Remit and Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Retap. His female family also boasts multiple stakes diva Debs Angel as well as Grade 2 victor Good Bid.