The workout nearly turned tragic when one of Tapit's two workmates, the regal 4-year-old filly Silver Singer, collapsed past the finish line while pulling up around the first turn. She stumbled, fell, cut open her right knee, tried to get up, failed and then remained prone on the dirt.
Silver Singer's rider, jockey Jose Caraballo, said she was tired after setting the pace for the highly regarded Tapit but otherwise was OK. After several minutes, the filly struggled back to her feet, and Michael Dickinson, her trainer, led her back to the paddock.
Tapit has raced only twice but ranks in the top 10, sometimes even the top five, of handicappers' Kentucky Derby candidates. A striking gray son of Pulpit, Tapit won his maiden race Oct. 19 at Delaware Park by 7 3/4 lengths. Then he won the Laurel Futurity on Nov. 15 by 4 3/4 lengths with an impressive burst of speed after being trapped inside horses most of the race.
Dickinson trains at his Tapeta Farm in Cecil County, but he transported Tapit to South Florida last month to prepare him for his 3-year-old debut. The colt developed a sore left shin, and Dickinson brought him home.
Trying to make up for 19 days of missed training with Tapit, Dickinson received permission from Laurel racing officials to breeze the colt between races. A workout at the track with two horses in the afternoon would closer simulate a race than the normal workout in the morning.
Dickinson instructed the riders of the workmates - Caraballo with Silver Singer and exercise rider Alan Gorman with Royal Win, another Dickinson horse - to set the pace for Tapit and then, after turning for home, to leave a small hole for Tapit to barrel through. The plan worked, and Tapit, restrained early by his jockey Ramon Dominguez, ran the final eighth mile in a speedy 11 3/5 seconds.
The workout of seven-eighths of a mile was timed in 1 minute, 29.70 seconds. But the timer started when Tapit's workmates passed the seven-furlong marker. Tapit started about three lengths behind. That means he completed his seven furlongs in about 1 minute, 29 seconds.
"I was quite pleased as a whole with the work," Dickinson said. "This was a dress rehearsal ... a very necessary classroom exercise."
He said he might send Tapit back to Laurel for another afternoon breeze before deciding when to open the colt's 3-year-old season. The Florida Derby on March 13 at Gulfstream Park is a possibility, but Dickinson said Tapit would probably not be fit enough to win such a tough race against horses who had already raced this year.