Will Tuaandtwentysix Live Up To His Name?

Tua Tagovailoa rose to prominence in the CFB Championship Game when he led the Alabama Crimson Tide to a stunning comeback to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tagovailoa was not the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide last season, but his side’s struggles in the Championship Game in the first half forced Nick Saban’s hand to replace Jaylen Hurts.

The true freshman took the reins to the offense and led the fightback that sent the contest to overtime after Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a potential game-winning field goal. The pressure was on Tagovailoa after Rodrigo Blankenship put the Bulldogs ahead in overtime. However, the 20-year-old rose to the occasion after taking a sack, throwing 41-yard strike to win the game, connecting with DeVonta Smith.

Since then, Tagovailoa has gone from strength-to-strength as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback. He has led a revolution at the position, becoming arguably the best signal-caller Saban has had at his disposal in his illustrious career. Boasting Tagovailoa and a formidable defense, Alabama have been unstoppable in the 2018 season and are seemingly on their way to another appearance in the National Championship Game.

Tagovailoa’s exploits have endeared him to the Alabama fans, who may only have him in Tuscaloosa for another year with the prospect of the NFL looming after his junior season. Two supporters have gone the extra mile to show their support to their quarterback. Ali Goodrich and Caron Hutchinson have gone so far as to name their newly-acquired horse after the 20-year-old.

Goodrich and Hutchinson, along with a group of 13 other co-owners, paid $40,000 to purchase the chestnut colt and hope their charge will have the quality of Tagovailoa. Tuaandtwentysix – carrying the roster number of the Crimson Tide quarterback – bears the expectations of his owners as he seeks to make a name for himself in the American horse racing scene.

Finding His Feet

Goodrich and Hutchinson placed Tuaandtwentysix in Kellyn Gorder’s stable. Gorder is a solid trainer, although not quite in the class of the elite of American horse racing. His most prestigious win came in the Super Derby at the Louisiana Downs – a Grade Two event. Bourbon Courage won the race for Gorder and his owners Bourbon Lane Stable/Lynn in 2012 with a fine performance. Gorder’s next best outing came this year when his charge Red Ruby triumphed in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, securing another victory just below the elite status of a Grade One outing.

Not only does Tuaandtwentysix bear the name of a title-winning quarterback, but his bloodlines are traced back to the great Seattle Slew, who won the Triple Crown in 1977. His direct ancestors – Giant’s Causeway and Sea of Showers – did not have the same success as Seattle Slew, although did have enough pedigree to notch victories on the circuit. The chestnut colt had time in the stables to find his form before making his bow in his maiden special weight at the Indiana Grand Racecourse. He had solid odds of +400.00 before the eight-furlong event – perhaps due to the recognition of his namesake. The two-year-old entered the race slightly heavier than the majority of the field at 8-6.

Opening Races

Jockey Alex Canchari took the reins for the event but had difficulty getting the horse into a rhythm in his opening meet. Tuaandtwentysix struggled to match the pace of his rivals and was squeezed down the field. He lacked the kick in the close stages of the contest even to make a semblance of a challenge. The two-year-old placed in eighth out of 10 competitors, falling way below expectations. Tuaandtwentysix was able to put forward a stronger performance in his second race, finding his form on familiar ground at Keeneland. On this occasion, he was an outsider for the event given his disappointing debut outing. Edgar Morales assumed control of the chestnut colt on this occasion.

Morales was able to find an extra yard of pace out of his charge. He found his speed to challenge for the victory in the eight-furlong contest, only to finish just out of the running in fourth place as Bluegrass Parkway claimed the victory. A wide line was the issue for Tuaandtwentysix as was forced out of position by the leading group, which proved to be crucial in the decisive moment of the meet. The two-year-old kept charging even after crossing the finish line, and then had to be ushered to a halt by outriders. Despite his decent performance, a top-three finish eluded him for the second race on the bounce, although his owners are confident that he could see a dramatic rise just like Tagovailoa.

Looking Ahead

Goodrich and Hutchinson have spoken of their ambition of racing Tuaandtwentysix in the Kentucky Derby next year. That would be a tall order, to say the least given that the chestnut colt has only two races under his belt and both of those have been on turf rather than the dirt of the Churchill Downs. Experience is not the be all and end all due to the fact that Justify had not participated in a competitive race this time last year and went on to win the Triple Crown. However, horses of that pedigree a few and far between. Although Tuaandtwentysix may have a semblance of quality and a potentially bright future, his early form suggests that he is nowhere near the calibre required to win the Kentucky Derby.

Compare his form to that of the early favourite for the Derby next year – Game Winner, who has won all four of his races to date, including one at the Churchill Downs. Bob Baffert’s charge made a statement in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, delivering a flawless performance to win the event by two-and-a-quarter lengths. That is the standard that Tuaandtwentysix has to rise to by next May. Gorder will put his charge through his paces and there is ample time for the chestnut colt to improve, but even placing in the top 10 of the event would be a stretch at this moment. However, as Tagovailoa proved, circumstances can change and superstars can emerge out of nowhere. Maybe the two-year-old just might be able to match the exploits of his namesake.