MATT WINN STAKES | PURSE: $100,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/16 MILES
Tapiture bounced back from his 15th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in May with flair, scoring a convincing victory in the $109,400 Matt Winn Stakes June 14 at Churchill Downs.
The race was the first of four graded stakes on the Louisville track's "Downs After Dark" program, with the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap the marquee event on the 11-race card.
Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, Tapiture was settled off the early pace in the field of seven 3-year-olds, rapidly advanced around the turn and drew even with front-runner Almost Famous into the stretch. Lengthening stride when Napranik gave the cue, Tapiture shook clear to secure a two-length victory as Ulanbator spurted past Almost Famous to take second.
Tapiture won as the even-money favorite and covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.99 on a fast track.
The Matt Winn marked the fifth start this year for Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred Tapiture, who won the Southwest Stakes in his sophomore debut, followed by a runner-up finish in the Rebel Stakes. He posted a fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby, all at Oaklawn Park, prior to the Kentucky Derby, in which he did not have the best of trips.
The Matt Winn also was Tapiture's second victory at Churchill and third stakes win overall. He closed out his juvenile campaign with a facile 4 1/2-length victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to stamp himself as a horse to watch as the classic season began.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Tapiture has a 3-2-2 record from nine career starts. The $66,472 winner's share of the Matt Winn purse increased his lifetime earnings to $557,310.
The Admiral was reluctant to load in the starting gate but once the latch sprung open, he eagerly crossed the track from the 6-hole with Miguel Mena and sped to the early lead. Rise Up, the 2013 Delta Jackpot Stakes winner, was clapped to his flank down the backstretch as he clocked a :47.23 half-mile while Napravnik patiently waited with Tapiture in fourth.
Nearing the far turn, Calvin Borel came through on the rail with Almost Famous, who was tracking from third early, and seized command by 1 ½ lengths. Napranik shifted Tapiture to the three-path and in early stretch briefly engaged the front-runner, who readily yielded. Tapiture continued on to the victory as much the best.
Napravnik said Tapiture had a great trip.
"We sat in a really comfortable position," she said. "There was plenty of speed in there for us to sit behind and he's a very nice horse. I actually breezed him at Fair Grounds before he turned 3, and I've wanted to ride him ever since so it was great to finally get on him."
Tapiture, under top weight of 123 pounds, paid $4, $2.80, and $2.40. Maiden winner Ulanbator, taking a big step up in class following a third in a Churchill allowance race May 3, returned $5.80 and $4.20. Almost Famous brought $3 to show in seeking a breakthrough stakes win.
Rankhasprivileges was fourth, with Rise Up, Conquest Titan, and The Admiral completing the order of finish.
Winchell Thoroughbreds Tapiture, a son of leading sire Tapit, is out of the winning Olympio mare Free Spin. He is a half brother to stakes winners Remit and Retap, who was Grade 3-placed.
"I think that was perfect for him to hopefully get his confidence back," Asmussen said of Tapiture after the Matt Winn. "There are still some lucrative 3-year-old races left out there, so hopefully he can get in the mix. From a timing standpoint, he obviously responded to the six-week break off of the Kentucky Derby. So the West Virginia Derby [Aug. 2] in seven weeks might be ideal."