SARATOGA SPRINGS — Except for accountants, nobody likes to talk about taxes.
To hear trainer Danny Gargan tell it, nobody likes to talk about Tax, either. Well, besides Gargan himself. He’ll talk about his Travers horse all day, and it’s not just empty boasting.
Heading into Tuesday night’s post-position draw, the son of Arch is coming off not only a victory in the Grade II Jim Dandy, Saratoga Race Course’s traditional steppingstone race to the Travers, but he’s coming off a scintillating bullet workout on the main track last Friday.
The 47.33 seconds under Irad Ortiz Jr. was the fastest of 64 works at that distance last Friday, so Tax is putting good numbers into some important columns in the ledger.
Gargan doesn’t expect Tax to be the morning-line favorite — or the betting favorite, for that matter — but he is brimming with confidence in his bay gelding, who has raced in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and is a two-time graded stakes winner after having taken the unusual route of coming through the claiming ranks.
Bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Tax was entered for a $50,000 tag at Keeneland in his second career start last October, and owner Hugh Lynch and Gargan swooped in and claimed him. So Tax comes into the Travers having been bred by one of the most storied operations in racing, having produced 38 Kentucky Derby runners since 1910, three of whom (Johnstown, Jet Pilot, Swale) won it. But in the eyes of some, Tax still needs to prove himself.
“That’s OK. They weren’t talking about him going into the Jim Dandy, either,” Gargan said last Friday after the 47.33 breeze. “I think a lot of people have a hard time thinking he’s going to be a good horse because we claimed him, you know? But he’s probably the best-bred horse in the race. That’s what people don’t understand, he’s definitely one of the best-bred ones.”
Tax is from the last crop by Arch, who died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 21 in January of 2016. Arch produced 11 Grade I winners, including Blame, who handed Zenyatta her only defeat, in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic to close out her career.
After he was claimed by Gargan for Lynch, they dropped him straight into graded stakes company. Tax finished third in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct last December to close out his 2-year-old season.
And they did so with an assist from fellow trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
“I breezed him, and Kiaran McLaughlin was with me, and he got stuck in behind some horses and worked big-time impressive, and I was like, ‘God, what am I going to do with that horse?'” Gargan said. “Kiaran said, ‘You’re going to run in the Remsen.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah. Supplement him and run him in the Remsen. He’s good.’ So that’s kind of how we got on the Derby trail.”
Tax began his 3-year-old season with a victory in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct.
He was short on qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, but got the finish he needed with a second to fellow Travers contender Tacitus in the Grade II Wood Memorial.
In the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs, Tax never got in the game and was 15th across the wire, elevated to 14th by the disqualification of Maximum Security.
“After I won the Withers, I should’ve shipped him down to Florida,” Gargan said. “But it may have been a benefit now, because maybe he’s gotten good this time of year.
“So, you can go back. Every race, he showed up and ran hard except for the Derby, when he got squeezed back at the start, and that’s not where he wanted to be, and the track was a mess down on the rail and we were stuck on it all the way around there. If you throw out that race, he’s run good every time.”
That includes a fourth to Sir Winston, Tacitus and Joevia in the Belmont Stakes, 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner in his first start with Ortiz in the saddle.
“And he was short [in training] going into the Belmont,” Gargan said. “He probably should’ve won the race. I missed a work, he had a foot thing going on and I think he was the best horse that day and we got beat two lengths.
“The rail was golden, and the horses that ran first and third were on the golden rail the whole way. We were hung out three or four wide the whole way. If I had had a fitter horse, I think I would’ve won the race. He’s two lengths better now, and might be three or four.”
And he has been thriving at Saratoga.
He won the Jim Dandy by three-quarters of a length over his old buddy Tacitus, who nearly fell to his knees coming out of the starting gate.
After the workout last Friday, Tax looked like he wanted to go right back onto the track for another one.
He was a handful in the walking ring and during his bath, got anxious over a TV tripod invading his barn area and gave Gargan and Ortiz every indication that he’s as ready as he can be to open some more eyes in the Travers.
“If he runs big in this race, they’ll start to give him credit,” Gargan said. “I just know that at some point, if somebody’s going to beat him, they’re going to have to pass him running 100 yards before the wire. Because he’s going to be there.
“He tries. He’s the kind of horse that just always shows up. Some horses want to be racehorses, and he wants to be one. Irad’s really excited. He really loved him going into the Jim Dandy. He was really confident. We weren’t the favorite, and he could’ve rode a couple other horses, and stuck with us. We just have to see how everything unfolds.
“But I think we’re going to have a fun day.”