Winchell Thoroughbreds’ reigning Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile runner-up Tapiture grabbed the lead at the top of the stretch and determinedly repelled a challenge from fast-closing even-money favorite Viva Majorca to win Saturday’s 23rd running of the $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap (Grade III) at Churchill Downs by a half-length.
Tapiture, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. while toting the 118-pound starting high weight, ran one mile on a fast track in 1:35.39.
Longshot Roman Unbridled led the field of seven older horses through fractions of :23.10 and 46.75 with Tapiture tracking from fourth in the clear on the outside and Viva Majorca another length behind. Tapiture ranged into contention on the turn, grabbed the lead with a quarter mile to run and held off a hard-charging Viva Majorca to prevail in a drive.
The first prize was $60,760 and hiked Tapiture’s bankroll to $1,536,820 with a record of 17-5-4-4. The victory was snapped a six-race losing streak. It was his first victory since the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (GII) at Mountaineer in August 2014.
Tapiture, now a five-time graded stakes winner, returned $7.40, $3 and $2.80 as the 5-2 second betting choice. Viva Majorca, ridden by Julien Leparoux (116 pounds), paid $2.40 and $2.40. Hat of Jacks, a 32-1 outsider with Francisco Torres aboard (114), was another four lengths back in third and paid $5.80.
Midnight Cello (117), Den’s Legacy (117), Agent Di Nozzo (117) and Roman Unbridled (115) completed the order of finish.
Tapiture is a 4-year-old homebred son of Tapit out of the Olympio mare Free Spin and was bred in Kentucky.
This was Asmussen’s second win in the race. He captured the 2008 Ack Ack Handicap with Magna Graduate.
The Ack Ack Handicap honors the 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack, who won the 1969 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in 1:34.40 which was a track record for one mile that has since been eclipsed.
ACK ACK HANDICAP QUOTES
STEVE ASMUSSEN, trainer of TAPITURE (winner): “Nothing went well at Oaklawn with the weather early this year. I thought he hit a couple of tracks that were extremely laboring in his first races of the year. It got him a little flat, and then I thought the key to the race today was him getting away cleanly and not having to chase the spot.
“He was away from the gates nice and smooth today and was in Ricardo [Santana’s] hand the whole time. I was a little concerned with how soon he got to the lead because he did get a pretty good little break since his last race, but he showed some quality late to hold off Viva Majorca. He’s a nice horse.
“I think last year, as a 3-year-old, you’re not positive who they’re running against when you put them against 3-year-olds and he put in some pretty good runs with his win in the West Virginia Derby and thought that he trained really well in California and expected a big race out of him in the [Breeders’ Cup Dirt] Mile, but he kind of increased his margin late. He was in a great spot down the back side Ricardo put him in a great spot. I thought the favorite put a good run at him and for him to put in a good run late is all we could have hoped for.”
RICARDO SANTANA JR., jockey of TAPITURE (winner): “He’s a nice horse. He got a clean trip. He sat really comfortably. Turning for home it looked like he was going to keep going, but he waited for the other horse [Viva Majorca]. He ran a really big race. He’s coming back, man! He ran one mile here and ran second when he was a maiden. He likes this track pretty well; he likes Churchill Downs. He always tries, I’m happy he won. I think he didn’t like the track [Prairie Meadows] and he was a little bit off, but he’s been training well. He’s coming back, I promise. He’s going to be all right. ”
IAN WILKES, trainer of VIVA MAJORCA (second): “He ran good but he just got beat. We had no excuse, you know. He’s probably a little better at seven-eighths. He just wanted to get a little too strong in the middle of the race. But he ran good and I can’t complain – they were running away from the rest. The winner is a nice horse.”
JULIEN LEPAROUX, jockey of VIVA MAJORCA (second): “Both of those horses ran good. They tried hard and they finished fast – both of them. We just got beat today by a neck, or not even that maybe. But they both ran good. We had no excuse. We had a good trip.”
Q: Did you think at any point you were going to win? “At the quarter pole I was very confident. He made that move, but the winner just didn’t stop.”
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 7, 2016. The track will resume its 2015 racing schedule with its September 11-27 September Meet and a Fall Meet scheduled for Nov 1-29. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships eight times. Information is available at www.ChurchillDowns.com.