JCGC Longshots: Chess Chief 'A Real Warrior,' Tax Will 'Break Out Of That One Hole Running' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

JCGC Longshots: Chess Chief ‘A Real Warrior,’ Tax Will ‘Break Out Of That One Hole Running’

Chess Chief (outside) edges Owendale in the New Orleans Classic

The Estate of James J. Coleman Jr.'s graded stakes winning Chess Chief looks to light up the tote board in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, a “Win and You're In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Keeneland.

Contested at the Classic 10-furlong distance on Saratoga Race Course's main track, Chess Chief will break from post 4 under jockey Manny Franco.

The 6-year-old son of Into Mischief was fifth in this event last year and most recently was third in the Alydar August 4 at the Spa. He closed out his 2021 campaign with a win in the Tenacious at Fair Grounds Race Course, where he has posted all five of his wins through 34 career starts and purse earnings of $894,369.

The hard-knocking Virginia-bred made the grade in March 2021 in the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic and finished sixth in his title defense this spring.

Despite being made the longest shot of 30-1 on the morning line, trainer Dallas Stewart said he is expecting his horse to run a big race.

“He's a real warrior. He ran in this race last year but was coming off a bad grass race,” said Stewart. “This year he's had a race over the track and a couple of real good works over the main track. He galloped as fresh as a 2-year-old this morning.”

Chess Chief's most recent work was at five-eighths on August 28 over the Spa main track, covering the ground in 1:01.25.

Stewart is no stranger to Grade 1 success at the Spa, including the 2017 Personal Ensign with Forever Unbridled and the 2015 Ballerina with her full-sister Unbridled Forever.

“We won a couple Grade 1s here before,” said Stewart. “We only bring a small amount of horses, but it's just like any other race. You've got to get in there and fight it out.”

It has been a long road back to top company for 2019 Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Tax, who returned to the races from a 19-month layoff in July to score a wire-to-wire victory in the Battery Park at Delaware Park. The 6-year-old son of Arch will now try for a Grade 1 victory in Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup going 10 furlongs for 3-year-olds and up at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained and co-owned by Danny Gargan with R.A. Hill Stable, Tax last faced Grade 1 company in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January 2021 at Gulfstream Park, his last race before an injury that forced his lengthy respite.

“Off that big a layoff, it was so rewarding,” Gargan said of the Battery Park effort. “And they made him the favorite when he hadn't run in 532 days. He's a really cool horse.”

Tax made a quick ascent to the graded ranks as a juvenile, graduating at second asking in a maiden claiming race at Keeneland where he was haltered by Gargan for $50,000. He followed with a third in the Grade 2 Remsen before making the grade in his sophomore debut with an off-the-pace score in the Grade 3 Withers, both at Aqueduct Racetrack. He punched his ticket to the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with a runner-up finish to Tacitus in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial that April and subsequently finished 14th in the “Run for the Roses.”

Tax went on to have a prosperous second half of his 3-year-old season that included a close fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, his determined three-quarter-length score over Tacitus in the Jim Dandy and a runner-up finish to Performer in the Grade 3 Discovery at the Big A to close out the year. As a 4-year-old, he competed in his first Pegasus World Cup and won the Grade 3 Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream Park.

Gargan said he is excited to have Tax back in Grade 1 company.

“We didn't know it would take this long, but it's pretty cool,” Gargan said. “It's a big step forward and he's going to have to run a big step forward, so it will be fun to see if he still has that desire to be in that kind of caliber. If he does, we'll keep doing it and if not, we'll go back and figure it out. I would love to see him hit the board.”

Tax will run 10 furlongs for the first time since an even fifth-place finish in the 2019 Travers at the Spa. Gargan said the dark bay gelding, who is 3-for-3 going 1 1/16 miles, may be at his distance limits in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but that his class will carry him when he exits the inside post under Kendrick Carmouche.

“He'll be on the lead and hopefully he runs big. We'll break out of that one hole running,” said Gargan. “The only thing that worries me is that the mile and a quarter might not be his best distance. It's funny to say this, but he's undefeated at a mile and a sixteenth. But he ran good in the Belmont. There were a couple different options here, but we waited on this race and we'll see how it goes. He likes this track and he's a happy horse.”

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