SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable's Tax breezed a half-mile in a bullet 47.33 seconds on Friday morning in preparation for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, slated for Saturday, August 24 at Saratoga Race Course.
The 1 1/4-mile Travers is the centerpiece of a card featuring seven stakes and six Grade 1s, including the Grade 1, $850,000 Sword Dancer; Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti; Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina; Grade 1, $600,000 Forego presented by Encore Boston Harbor; and Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy. Rounding out the blockbuster card is the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa.
Trained by Danny Gargan and piloted in the work by jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., Tax broke off behind a workmate and was able to easily take command down the lane despite encountering some unexpected traffic.
"We tucked him in behind a horse and we got some other company in the middle of it and he went to the rail and just went right on about his business. I was really happy," said Gargan. "Irad said he's getting stronger and bigger and faster. We're really happy with how he's doing. He seems to be blossoming at just the right time. He was bucking and squealing coming off the track. It was a big-time work. He worked in 47 [.33], and out three-quarters in 1:12.4."
Ortiz, Jr. was equally impressed with the training session from the imposing dark bay son of Arch.
"He just did it so easy," said Ortiz, Jr. "I asked him because I want to work him and when I asked him he responded really well and kept galloping out. He came back like it was nothing. He looks good going into the race."
Gargan, who claimed Tax for his current connections for $50,000 of a winning effort at Keeneland on October 21, said this morning's work reminded him of a breeze not long after the claim at Belmont Park. The veteran conditioner recalled watching Tax breeze at Belmont and as the horse stylishly overcame traffic trouble, he turned to fellow trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and said, 'What am I going to do with this horse.'
McLaughlin replied, "You're going to run him in the Remsen."
Gargan supplemented Tax to the Remsen and enjoyed immediate dividends as the gelding ran third in the 1 1/8-mile test at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Tax continued to blossom on the Kentucky Derby trail winning the Grade 3 Withers and finishing second behind Travers rival Tacitus in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets. Following a difficult trip in the Kentucky Derby when pinched back and stuck on a bad rail, eventually placed 14th, Tax returned to form with a prominent fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Last out, on July 27 in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy presented by NYRA Bets, Tax broke alertly but sat off the pace of Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will before taking command late in the turn and holding off Tacitus, who endured a difficult trip after stumbling at the gate.
A similar trip may be in store for Tax in the Travers.
"We'll break running like we always do and figure it out from there," said Gargan. "I've been training him to stalk horses. That's the way we did it the other day. He broke in front and then took him back. He can be in front, but I prefer him to have a target."
Gargan said Tax is currently in the best shape of his life as both horse and trainer look to earn a first Grade 1 win.
"He looks great after the work. This is the fittest we ever had him," said Gargan. "This winter we missed a lot of training due to weather and a few things here and there, but he's fit now. I don't know if we can win the Travers, but we're going to show up and run good."
Tax, despite boasting a record of 3-2-1 from eight starts and purse earnings on $756,300, is unlikely to go to post as the favorite in the "Mid-Summer Derby," and Gargan said he's fine with that.
"No one was talking about him going into the Jim Dandy either," said Gargan. "I think a lot of people have a hard time thinking he's going to be a good horse because we claimed him.
"If he runs big in this race he'll start getting credit," he added. "I just know at some point, if somebody is going to beat him, they'll have to pass him a hundred yards before the wire because he's going to be there."