SARATOGA SPRINGS -- On Tax Day, Tacitus was forced to pay a late fee.
Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Tax worked out a clean and uneventful trip -- unlike some of his rivals -- to win the Grade II $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course on a warm, sunny day that drew a bustling crowd of 34,517 in announced admission.
It was Tax's first victory since the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct on Feb. 2 during a campaign that saw him finish 14th in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes.
With the Jim Dandy under his belt, Tax will point toward the Aug. 24 Travers.
"It's a wide-open division, and he was unfortunate a couple times," trainer Danny Gargan said. "The Derby was a throw-out race. If you take the Derby out, he's run as good as anyone all year. With the right trip and the right situation, he can be right there."
"We knew we had a shot," Ortiz said. "We got beat by Tacitus in the Belmont. He was doing much better this time. He was 100%, so it was exciting to cross the wire in front in this kind of race."
Belmont Stakes runner-up Tacitus, who went off as the 8-5 betting favorite in the Jim Dandy, did well to recover for second by three-quarters of a length, after his hind legs got tangled out of the starting gate and he nearly went face-first into the dirt.
"The second jump, he went straight down," jockey Jose Ortiz said. "I don't know how I stayed on him."
With no one interested in taking it out quickly at the start, Tax led into the first turn, then Preakness winner War of Will scrambled to the lead on the backstretch, leaving Tax to remain comfortably in second.
Tacitus gradually worked his way back into contention on the inside before Tax shook away from War of Will on the second turn.
In the homestretch, Tacitus got within a head of Tax on the inside, but Irad Ortiz urged Tax to the wire first.
"We thought Global Campaign would be in front, and he didn't go, and War of Will went flying like that," Gargan said. "Irad did the right thing and waited. He rode the perfect race today, he really did."
"When the speed horse [Global Campaign] didn't break that sharp, I changed my plan," Ortiz said. "I just decided to go. We never expected War of Will to be in front. When I let him run, he picked it up."
Although Tacitus appeared to be severely compromised by the start, he methodically worked his way back into the race, but it was too much to fully recover from.
"The start obviously didn't help, but after that, I guess his trip was OK," trainer Bill Mott said. "But you give up a little energy at the start. How much was it? I don't know. I thought he ran pretty good, considering. Jose even said at the eighth pole he thought he had that horse."
War of Will, meanwhile, didn't help himself by uncharacteristically bolting to the front on the backside.
"He kind of ran off down the backside, but, still, no excuses," trainer Mark Casse said. "I don't know. I don't really have any great excuses. He had a great trip. I don't think you could ask for any better. He just got outrun today."
GRADE I VANDERBILT
Little horse, big heart ... track record.
To say that Imperial Hint likes Saratoga would be a gross understatement, after he blew past 1-2 betting favorite Mitole on the turn and blasted away for a track record 1:07.92 at six furlongs in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt.
Imperial Hint not only won the Vanderbilt back-to-back, but did it off a four-month layoff. His last race was a third in the $2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen.
"When I looked at the time, my hair stood up like this," trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. said. "Last year, he gave me my first Grade I, and this year he gave me a track record, also. It's an amazing feeling, especially when your family is here, too."
"It's unbeliveable," jockey Javer Castellano said. "He's a really good horse, and I always have a lot of confidence in him. He's a little horse with a big heart. He's not an impressive horse, but he's got so much talent. For some reason, he likes it here, and he put everything together today."
The previous track record of 1:08 was set by Spanish Riddle in 1972, and equaled by Speightstown in 2004, when he ran 1:08.04 to win the Vanderbilt.
Mitole, riding a seven-race winning streak capped by the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day, dueled with Strike Power early through a half-mile in 44.21, then Imperial Hint rocketed by them on the turn and finished the final sixteenth of a mile under a hand ride from Castellano to win by four lengths over long shot Diamond Oops.
Mitole, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., held for third, another 3 1/2 lengths back.
"This horse keeps surprising me, and surprising everybody," Carvajal said.
"We were worried little bit. Mitole is a really nice horse. He had won all these races in a row, and he's a great horse. At first, I couldn't believe what he did there around that turn. He has a lot of heart. He doesn't have a big body, but he has a lot of heart."
"The track inside wasn't too good for us with the post and the weight," Santana said. "My horse ran hard. I just took my chance, but we'll see him in the next race."
GRADE II BOWLING GREEN
It was an 11-horse race for second place all the way around the track in the Bowling Green.
That doesn't mean it wasn't a dramatic finish, though.
Channel Cat and jockey Luis Saez got to the front from the No. 10 post and never gave it up, but a cavalry charge behind him made it interesting.
The son of English Channel held off Ya Primo, one of three Chad Brown-trained horses in the field, by a half-length, and the margins for the next four finishers, respectively, were a head, neck, neck and head.
"We wanted to get away cleanly and get some position going into the first turn, and it's not a real long run going into the first turn going a mile and three eighths," trainer Todd Pletcher told NYRA. "We didn't want to get hung out on three turns, but he kind of caught a flyer and relaxed, and Luis was riding with so much confidence. When you make a decision like that, sometimes it works out."
"When they came to him in the stretch, he kept fighting," Saez said. "I know a couple horses had a little speed, but he put me in that position. I knew he had a shot to win the race. I saw them coming, but he responded and got to the wire first."
In what appears to be a wide-open edition of the Grade II Amsterdam sprint for 3-year-olds, Shancelot is the 3-1 morning-line favorite off an impressive optional claiming race at Monmouth Park on June 23, just his second career start.
Another top contender is the Steve Asmussen-trained Nitrous, who came from well off the pace under Ricardo Santana Jr. to finish a neck behind Hog Creek Hustlein the Grade I Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day June 8.
"He got a favorable setup in the Woody Stephens and I think Ricardo and Steve have figured out the way he wants to be ridden," Winchell Thoroughbreds racing manager David Fiske told the New York Racing Association.
"It looks like he's a closing sprinter, so he seems to have done well the past three races or so. He just needs some pace in front of him. Typically, that's not a problem at Saratoga. Hopefully, he can get up on Sunday."
Other horses exiting the Woody Stephens and running back in the Amsterdam are Strike Silver, Wendell Fong and Honest Mischief.