04/09/2004 11:00PM

From last to first, Tapit wins Wood

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Tapit's win in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial brought an end to a tough winter for him. His trainer, Michael Dickinson, said that before the race he would have been happy to finish third.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Michael Dickinson brought Tapit to Saturday's $750,000 at Aqueduct hoping to be third and earn enough money to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

Dickinson returned to his Maryland farm Saturday night with a surprising victory and perhaps the Derby favorite.

Tapit, who had raced only once since last November - and a bad race, at that - rallied from last over a speed-favoring Aqueduct main track to win Saturday's Grade 1 Wood Memorial by a half-length before 17,354 at Aqueduct. Master David won a nose decision over Eddington for second, a result that could keep Eddington out of the Derby because of a lack of graded stakes earnings.

Tapit's victory was worth $450,000 and put him squarely back in the Derby picture after a dismal winter.

Tapit, who won the Grade 3 Laurel Futurity at 2, began the winter in Florida, but suffered a sore left shin that forced him to miss significant training time. That prompted Dickinson to return him to Maryland. Tapit finally made it to the races March 13, finishing a dull sixth in the Florida Derby.

According to Dickinson, Tapit came out of that race with a significant lung infection. Dickinson, a perfectionist, wasn't thrilled with how Tapit trained leading up to the Wood and said he "would have been over the moon to be third."

"I was dreading it today, because he's such a good horse, a brave horse, and I thought I was putting him into battle unprepared, and if something had happened I would have blamed myself," said Dickinson, who trains Tapit for Ronald Winchell. "The horse carried me through."

Under Ramon Dominguez, Tapit was last entering the first turn. Value Plus, the 5-2 favorite, dueled with Sinister G through a half-mile run in 47.12 seconds. Cuba raced in third, and Eddington and Master David raced together in fourth and fifth.

Dominguez put Tapit in the clear down the backstretch, and he advanced steadily into contention down the backside. Tapit rallied six wide in the stretch, and he outfinished Master David, who had taken the lead in deep stretch along the rail. Tapit, a son of Pulpit, covered the nine furlongs in 1:49.70 and returned $12.60.

"I thought the performance was great, not only because he won, but by the way he did it," Dominguez said. "He definitely had a little left in the tank. If this horse improves off this performance, there's no telling how good he can be."

Bobby Frankel was pleased with Master David, who hadn't run since winning the Sham Stakes on Feb. 8. Master David now has $208,000 in graded earnings and should have no problem getting into the Derby.

"At least we're in," Frankel said. "I just wanted to be one-two-three. [In deep stretch] I thought he was going to win; he's a tough little guy."

Trainer Mark Hennig said he would run Eddington in the Derby if he can get in. He has only $95,000 in graded stakes earnings.