by Teresa Genaro
They say that he who hesitates is lost. However, despite his initial reluctance to become a part owner of Tax, Randy Hill nevertheless ended up in the winner’s circle for the $252,500 Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on Saturday.
Bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider, Tax ran his first race for his breeders, finishing second in a maiden claimer at Churchill Downs. Entered at a higher tag next out at Keeneland, the dark bay broke his maiden and his breeders lost him for $50,000 to trainer Danny Gargan and Hugh Lynch. Luke Stritsman’s Corms Racing Stable and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing also became partners, and Gargan offered a share to Hill.
“Here’s how dumb I was,” said Hill, standing in the chilly Aqueduct paddock. “Luke and Danny offered me a piece of the horse when they claimed him, and I said, ‘No, I’ve got enough horses.’”
After Tax, who is by Arch and out of the Giant’s Causeway’s mare Toll, finished third in the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct, Hill reconsidered.
“I went back and said, ‘I want in,’ and fortunately, they let me back in,” Hill said.
With Junior Alvarado in the saddle on Saturday – Tax’s third jockey from four career starts – the three-year-old gelding broke from post 1 and settled on the rail just off the lead. He bided his time behind the pacesetting Not That Brady, a horse Hill owned – and named – until he was claimed in his first start.
Dropping back to fourth heading up the backstretch, Alvarado kept Tax on the rail, taking aim at a narrow opening in front of him just inside of Not That Brady. Those two were joined by Jerome runner-up Our Braintrust, who was making his first start for new connections Gary Barber and Mark Casse.
“I thought we had the horse (to win it),” Hill said. “I wasn’t sure, of course, and I was nervous, and I was especially nervous because it was Not That Brady. That’s what was killing me.”
Hill and his partners did have the horse to win it, albeit by a head. Not That Brady got second with Our Braintrust a neck back in third.
“I was hoping the hole would open up and I got lucky and got through,” Alvarado said. “He responded right away when we got the space. It was just enough for him.”
“He ran really good today,” Gargan noted. “I think down the backside, he got a really good education. Junior said he kind of got stuck down in there and clipped heels a couple of times.”
Disinclined to cut back from the Withers distance of 1 1/8 miles for the one-mile Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct on March 9, Gargan is looking at the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at nine furlongs at Turfway Park. Both races are on the same day as the Gotham.
Gargan would like to get three races into Tax if they earn enough qualifying points to get into the Kentucky Derby (G1). Tax was awarded 10 qualifying points in the Withers, adding to the two he earned for placing in the Remsen. Not That Brady took home four points, Our Braintrust earned two and 33-1 Sir Winston garnered one for his fourth-place effort in the Withers.
As a child, Hill went to Monmouth Park with his mother, and he became a racetrack regular while at college. After visiting Saratoga, he made a decision.
“I said I was going to buy two horses so that I could race at Saratoga, and never buy another one,” he said. “That was about 50 horses ago.”
None of them have brought him to the Kentucky Derby, though. He owns another promising three-year-old, Vekoma, undefeated in two starts and winner of the Nashua Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in early November, so with some racing luck, he may end up with two horses on the road to Churchill Downs.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It’s fun when you get a good one.”