OLDSMAR, Fla. -- The 10,079 fans who packed Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday apparently knew how unwise it is to bet against trainer Todd Pletcher in the Tampa Bay Derby, a race he has now won a record five times, including three of the past four years.
The betting public pounded Taprit ($4.20) down to about even money in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, and the horse made that look like a gift, setting a stakes record for 1 1/16 miles and scoring by 4 1/2 lengths over pacesetter State of Honor.
The Tampa Bay Derby offered 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers. Tapwrit, the runner-up in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes here last month, now has 54 points after collecting 50 for winning the Tampa Bay Derby. State of Honor now has 20 points after finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby and third in the Sam F. Davis. He finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Wild Shot, who now has 11 points for finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby and fourth in the Sam F. Davis. No Dozing earned five points for finishing fourth on Saturday.
With Jose Ortiz aboard, Taprit was eighth through the opening quarter-mile and seventh after a half-mile as State of Honor, breaking from the outside post in a field of 10 3-year-olds, set fractions of 23.42 seconds and 46.65. Just as he did in the Sam F. Davis, State of Honor fought hard from start to finish, but as Tapwrit knifed through rivals around the far turn, he removed all doubt about the outcome, hitting the top of the stretch with a three-length lead and cruising home comfortably ahead.
Tapwrit finished in 1:42.36, breaking the stakes record of 1:42.82 set by Destin last year. His time also was faster than McCraken's time of 1:42.45 set in winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes.
"He broke well and got me into a good position going down the backside, and I knew I was loaded going to the three-eighths pole," Ortiz said. "I didn't want to get boxed-in like I did last time, so I went to the outside, and he was much the best. When he made the lead, he pulled himself up a little bit, waiting for competition.
"He can go a mile and an eighth, a mile and a quarter. He did it pretty easily today. I think he's going to get much better with each race."
Tapwrit had finished 1 1/2 lengths behind McCraken, a leading prospect for the May 6 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, in the Sam F. Davis. Ortiz said after that race that he had to wait for running room on the rail around the far turn, which might have cost him the victory. With McCraken missing the Tampa Bay Derby due to a minor ankle injury, the stage was set for Tapwrit.
Tapwrit, a $1.2 million yearling purchase, has three wins and a second-place finish in five career starts and has earned $313,902 for owners Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Bob LaPenta. The Tapit colt has won two stakes, including the $75,000 Pulpit in the slop at Gulfstream Park in December. Tapwrit joined Destin (2016), Carpe Diem (2015), Verrazano (2013), and Limehouse (2004) as Tampa Bay Derby winners for Pletcher.
Julien Leparoux, who rode State of Honor for trainer Mark Casse, said he was proud of his horse's effort in defeat.
"With the post today, I was hoping I could rate him a bit, second or third, but he took me there [to the lead]," he said. "He's just a big, big horse with a long stride, and I didn't want to fight him to take him back, but he was very happy on the lead, and he fought back when the other one came. Second-best today, that's it."
After No Dozing in fourth place, the Tampa Bay Derby's order of finish was rounded out by Beasley, Basha, Tale of Silence, Sonic Mule, Zion Valley, and The Money Monster.