Will Tax Be the 10th Gelding to Win the Kentucky Derby?

by Margaret Ransom

Geldings in the Kentucky Derby aren’t exactly considered the rare unicorn of racing anymore. In fact, a total of 115 geldings have sprung from the gate since 1908 and nine have won, including the New York-bred dual classic winner Funny Cide, who, in 2013, quenched the drought of 74 years between him and Clyde Van Dusen, the last gelding to wear the roses in 1929.

And a decade ago, Mine That Bird slipped through the narrowest of holes along the rail at the top of the legendary Churchill Downs stretch under Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel to become the second-biggest upsetter in Derby history with his victory by 5 ¾ lengths at odds of 50.60-1, triggering a $103.20 win payout.

Four geldings have started under the Twin Spires on the first Saturday in May since Mine That Bird’s eye-popping victory, with the best finish being Homeboykris (2010) and War Story’s (2015) 16th-place results. This year, the gelding brigade will be represented by Withers Stakes (GIII) winner Tax, a son of Claiborne Farm stallion Arch and a former claimer now owned by R.A. Hill, Reeves Thoroughbreds, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable.

Tax shares a weird “six degrees of separation” status with Mine That Bird involving more than just their shared ultimate equipment change (more on that later).

How did Tax qualify for this year’s Derby? First, in his debut at 6 ½ furlongs in late September for breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Tax ran a respectable second when offered for sale for $30,000 by trainer Ben Colebrook.

Nobody claimed him.

He ran back for the same connections in a 1 1/16-mile race at Keeneland in October — carrying a $50,000 price tag — and won. This time, however, he was claimed — by trainer Danny Gargan for Lynch, who then brought his current partners into the ownership group.

Following that, Tax was given the acid test when tossed into stakes company in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct in December — and he finished a strong third after a pretty wide trip at 17-1 to earn his first two Derby points.

Then came the Withers two months later, which he won by a head as the 2-1 favorite and earned ten points. It was a particularly strong performance in that he had trouble at the break, stumbling from the inside post, and some trouble again at the eighth pole, where he was put in tight quarters before recovering and continuing on to victory.

Gargan opted to skip the Gotham Stakes in March and give Tax more time to train, despite the fact that he’d only earned 12 Road to the Kentucky Derby points up to that point. So, by the time the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) came around he was ready, and despite engaging in a minor kerfuffle going into the first turn in New York’s biggest prep, Tax benefitted from an early speed duel and closed well in the lane, only to give up the win begrudgingly to Tacitus in deep stretch. He did earn 40 points for his second-place finish to bring his total to 52 and officially stamped his Kentucky Derby passport for access to the starting gate.

So how is he loosely connected to Mine That Bird aside from also being a gelding? Well, Tax is a Kentucky-bred son of the Giant’s Causeway mare Toll, who won just two races from nine starts. Toll herself is a daughter of the A.P. Indy mare Yell, who was third in the 2003 Kentucky Oaks (GI) won by Bird Town.

Now, here’s where the connection to Mine That Bird gets interesting. Bird Town, whose Kentucky Oaks win came in the same year as Funny Cide’s Kentucky Derby victory, is a daughter of 2004 Broodmare of the Year Dear Birdie (by Storm Bird), who also produced 2004 Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Birdstone (by Grindstone). Birdstone’s most famous offspring is Mine That Bird.

And Toll sold to geologist and Canadian diamond miner Charles Fipke in foal to Blame for $50,000 at Keeneland last November before Tax had made his first stakes start.

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