Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meet my new boy, Tapizar

Official photo finish of the 2010 Travers
In December 2009, I was lucky enough to have TVG running in the background on a cold, shut-in kind of day when I happened to witness the debut of a 2-year-old at Aqueduct named Afleet Express. I was immediately impressed by his sheer talent to overcome a rollercoaster of a trip to rally from last and breeze past his rivals while still acting green in the stretch. This was a big ball of potential, and I hung on his every workout and race thereafter. If you followed horse racing in 2010, you will know then how I was rewarded with the ultimate pay-off for my loyalty: Afleet Express hung on to win the Grade I Travers by a nose to Fly Down that summer. It was one of the highlights of my year, to say the least--I was screaming like a flaming banshee, my shrieks piercing the windows of my living room and alerting the neighborhood to what they likely thought was my murder. My vocal cords were practically shredded by the time the horses galloped back from that race. I hadn't bet on that race (as I bet maybe twice a year, and only if I happen to be at the track), but I still had my $2 win ticket from my trip to Saratoga when I saw him run in the Jim Dandy, proof of my devotion.

When the juveniles started popping up in 2010, I started to avidly watch all of the baby races on TVG and HRTV, hoping to find my next Afleet Express. This time, it came much earlier in the year, and the performance didn't "wow" me the in same way as Afleet Express, but you'll soon see why. The horse's connections (A carbon-copy of my boy Pyro circa 2008) first gave me reason to like him, as well as the fact he'd finished in the money (3rd) in his only start; there was only room for improvement here in his second start. It was September 19, 2010, a Maiden Special Weight run at 1 mile 70 yards at Monmouth Park. As soon as the gates popped open, everything went horribly wrong for Tapizar. The colt stumbled a step out of the break, and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan flew straight over the juvenile's head. That didn't stop Tapizar, who was by then trailing at the back of the field as the rest left him in the dust. Off he went in hot pursuit while the jockey rolled to safety, and in a few strides, Tapizar had flown up the inside rail on his own volition and took the lead by the time the field had reached the first turn. Riderless, Tapizar assumed the lead by several lengths. The rest of the field eventually caught up to him halfway along the backstretch, and here's where it got interesting. Tapizar dropped back behind eight rivals going into the final turn, and as soon as he began to run around the middle of the turn, it was as if he decided to become Seabiscuit and take another run at those challengers one more time. Most horses will bolt and run for the stables when they're loose, or simply peter out and jog at the back of the pack without any guidance. Tapizar took the initiative and decided he still wanted to win this. The two-year-old son of Tapit circled foes and dove between horses to cut up the inside rail. Then he began to charge along the rail at the leaders, and settled for an unofficial third place after this absurd riderless trip. While the Racing Form would never count this effort on record, it was hard to deny this was indeed, a special horse. Under very similar circumstances in which I had discovered Afleet Express, I entered Tapizar into my barn with hopes I had finally found the colt I was looking for.

Ironically, I was able to witness Tapizar's next two starts in person--and in both of those instances, I happened to be watching him race from the Churchill Downs press box balcony. I didn't plan it this way, and I find it funny, since I'm normally glued to one of the two rails on the track during races. The first time I saw him run in front of me was on the Thursday before the Breeders' Cup. My spot from the press box gave me a bird's eye view of the trouble Tapizar would have in this start--he had drawn the far outside post, #12, and was fanned 6-side going into the first turn. This is what ultimately cost him the race, for he could only manage leaving the final turn running 3-wide, and he ended up finishing fourth that day. (At least this time, it counted.) Admittedly, I was a little crushed by this placing, but as Tapizar hadn't yet been blessed with a good trip in which to flaunt his talent, I was hoping the next time the waters would part for him.

Admittedly, I was a little burned out both emotionally and physically after the Breeders' Cup whirlwind, and I probably hadn't been watching as many juvenile races as I had the year before. But I still remembered that mind-boggling performance by Tapizar at Monmouth, and so when I saw that he would be running while I was at Churchill on November 27th, I became excited. By that time, I was more than a little desperate to discover that one juvenile I could hang my hopes on for the new year. With 80% of my barn now off to the breeding shed, I didn't have a lot left to root for in 2011, and depression set in when not just my precious Afleet Express, but my other fan-since-the-maiden-race horse, Lookin at Lucky, was retired after a fourth place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. So I guess what I'm trying to say was that I was really needing Tapizar to win for me that late day in November.

And boy, did he come through. Tapizar was slated to run in the night cap, the 12th race on the card. I knew I would have to do some begging with my husband to let me stay for that one, as we had to drive home to Illinois after the stakes were over and I'd uploaded my photos to the Horsephotos server. Because of the late post times, the last stakes race of the day, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, was run under the lights and would make for a late trip home. Photographing under the lights does not make me a happy camper. Even though the night racing looks pretty on TV, in person, it's a nightmare for photographers. Unless you're intending to get a pan photo, where the horse's legs are blurry, the only shot that will come out is at the finish line, where a spotlight brightens up the area directly across from the finish. I like my photos to be sharp as can be, and let's face it, I wasn't looking to be artistic or experimental when it came down to a horse I was really interested in. If Tapizar had a chance to win, I wanted to get the best shot I could of him.

Tapizar breaks his maiden in a romp at Churchill
The race went off, and wouldn't you know it, a horse fell and threw his rider. Thankfully, both horse and rider (Julien Leparoux) were okay, and the horse didn't happen to be Tapizar. This time, my colt was shooting straight up to the flank of the speed horse, saving ground going into the first turn, and assuming the stalking position like a pro in second. There he stayed glued until the horses began to round for home, and this time, Tapizar saw daylight as they entered the stretch. Nothing between him and his first win but one of the longest stretches of dirt in America. Tapizar accelerated, eating up the ground with lengthening strides, and his competitors quickly became only a distant memory. His margin between them grew rapidly, until he was 10 1/2 lengths in front at the wire. My boy had finally just broken his maiden, and what a coming out party! I practically jumped up and down as I dashed back into the quiet press box to practically attacked the hapless Claire Novak, whom I'd regailed earlier in the day with my tale about discovering Tapizar. I had to share with someone that I hadn't been blabbering on about this maiden two-year-old all for nothing! It was my one consolation to not having placed a bet on him, which is really the only way most horsemen believe you'd picked a winner. (Since I bet only once in a blue moon, anyway, I believe I should be exempt from this rule.)

Now that Tapizar was not only a maiden winner, but an impressive maiden winner, his name was suddenly known by more than a few people. Imagine my elation, a few months later, to see that he was entered in the Grade II Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. My boy, in California, in his first stakes race! And here's where we come to present day.

Lightning doesn't strike twice very often, but I'd like to think that picking talented babies before they've exploded into fame and fortune isn't exactly pure luck. Maybe it is a little, in happening to have the TV turned on to catch a horse run a rollercoaster of a race, or maybe I'm just drawn to such things. Either way, let's hope my journey with Tapizar will continue long into the year, and you can look back at this post and say, "I knew him when." Because isn't that what following two-year-olds is all about?


  1. Clearly the passion with which you have followed this young horse makes you the president of the Official Tapizar Fan Club!
    Judging by the Sham, earlier today, you've hitched your support to the right steed.
    Drive the bandwagon carefully - it's going to get mighty full over the next few weeks.

  2. I saw Tapizar's Churchill Down's win in November and was very impressed, he looked so professional and effortless when he won. I didn't get a chance to watch the Sham but was thrilled to see him win! He should have a brilliant future!

    Great article, I love the way you write, very entertaining!

  3. Thanks for your comments, guys! I appreciate the feedback. :-)

    I'm so excited my boy won the Sham! I think with maturity, he will blossom with focused energy.

  4. NOW I see why you like him so much! That first race really sounds like something despite the loss of his rider. The one shown here is eye-widening impressive! Nice pick. ;)