Puckish Pletcher Pair

In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow, was an impish character who was always causing mischief.

Well, say hello to Harpoon and Vinceremos, Todd Pletcher-trained colts who are indeed goodfellows in that they are tough and talented, but, boy, do they have a knack for both finding and causing trouble, most of it self-inflicted. What is remarkable about them is that, despite their penchant for folly, they never run a bad race and in fact, in eight combined starts they’ve never finished worse than second.

To show how talented they are, in the Feb. 1 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) they managed to finish first and second, noses apart, despite trying their darndest to blow the race.

The question is, how long can they expect top get away with their antics until they catch up to them, especially with the competition expected to start getting tougher?

The panel who chooses the Kentucky Derby Future Wager field thought so highly of them they left both horses off the 23 individual betting interests and lumped them into the mutual field along with nearly 400 other horses.

Let’s start with Harpoon, from the folks who brought you Verrazano last year. Despite not changing leads and going seven-wide and drifting in through the stretch in the Sam F. Davis; despite coming out at the start and slamming into the horse outside him, not changing leads, drifting out in the stretch under right-hand whipping, and coming to a virtual dead-stop immediately after the wire in his maiden win; despite trying to prop coming out of the gate, taking the lead and fending off a cavalry charge at the head of stretch and battling with his stablemate the length of the stretch, while coming out and bumping him and then getting squeezed himself in a narrow maiden defeat; despite ducking in at the start, ducking abruptly to the outside and bumping a horse twice heading into the far turn, changing leads late, and repeatedly trying to get out in the stretch under right-handed whipping in another maiden race; and despite throwing his head to the side and going from the rail to the seven-path under left-handed whipping in the stretch in his career debut, he’s done nothing wrong.

As mentioned earlier, what is remarkable is that despite all his misadventures, he’s never been worse than second, and that’s with wearing blinkers twice and not wearing blinkers three times. So, where does that leave Harpoon as a legitimate Derby contender? It leaves him with the thought that if he ever gets his act together and learns to go about his business in a professional manner, there’s no telling what he can accomplish.

In all fairness, in his second start, he was beaten by Cairo Prince, who has developed into one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, and in his third start he was beaten by stablemate Matterhorn, who someone on the Future Wager panel must think very highly of to put him among the 23 betting interests, despite not having started since that race.

Harpoon has proven to be his own worst enemy. This is a good honest horse who just needs to grow up and not cost himself races.

As for Vinceremos, his list of demerits isn’t nearly as extensive as Harpoon’s. All he’s done in his last two races is duck so sharply to the inside at almost the exact same spot for no apparent reason, he’s either brushed the rail or come extremely close to hitting it before bouncing back off. But amazingly, on both occasions, despite having a 1 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole and then trying his best to give the race away, he’s managed to pull himself together, dig in and fight off his foes to win by a head and a nose.

In his maiden victory, after he recovered from his unexpected bolt to the rail, he fought back, while coming out into the runner-up when hit left-handed nearing the wire.

In his career debut in the slop, he took a left-hand turn after coming out of the gate and then got sandwiched when a horse came in on him. He then drifted out several paths in the stretch, finishing a well-beaten second.

One thing we know about him is that he wants to win and will fight you. In the Sam Davis, he looked as if he were about to be inhaled by three horses after his little jaunt to the rail, but refused to be beaten.

Good luck trying to figure out what these two colts are going to do in their next start. We do know that they both run hard, can battle through adversity, and don’t mind playing rough if need be. But they really need to start maturing, and you can be sure Beyer pundits are going to back off until they run faster numbers. In Vinceremos’ case, you don’t want to make a habit of ducking into the rail too often, especially after having a clear lead in the stretch.

So, we’ll see if one or both come back in the Tampa Bay Derby or if one goes elsewhere. Wherever they wind up, you can bet they’re going to at least make things interesting.


Leave a Comment:


Mmmm...why is it the Pletcher's horses are never quite as professional as some of the other running foals? Quality Road in the BC Classic starting gate comes to mind, too. Isn't there a definition of the word, "trainer"? Isn't one supposed to be able to train, and not just throw 80-100 young horses at the racing wall to see which one sticks? There is a headline in today's Bloodhorse about an exercise rider who uses classical horsemanship to good avail. Perhaps Mr. Pletcher might be well served to review it.

12 Feb 2014 6:56 PM

hockey pucks ?

12 Feb 2014 7:37 PM

Tapit progenies tend to be very fragile and a bit crazy. Tap It Rich is so head strong he blows his chances on the 1st turn in every race. Who can forget Tapizar and his antics. Normandy Invasion has not made a start since the Derby. Matterhorn has not made a start since his last win. Flashback seem to be heading in the wrong direction.

There are 16 nominated to the TC. Of the 16 I like Fire Starter and Tonalist. Fire Starter like Tap It Rich blew the turn in his 2nd start had had to be pulled up.

Tapit bred 169 mares in 2010. He must have been serving three mares per day. Who knows if the stress associated with breeding so many mares impacts the foals. The Tapits will always be good, fragile and crazy. Its not surprising as they are products of an overbred stallion.

12 Feb 2014 8:46 PM

I've never trained a Thoroughbred. I don't know the ins and outs of running a racing stable of any size, but I wonder how anyone can do a thorough job of training large numbers of horses?  You can't be hands-on all the time with so many to work with and even with assistants it seems like an impossible job to do right by each and every horse. I am amazed at how well these mega-trainers manage it all.

It will be interesting to see how Vinceremos and Harpoon progress in their racing careers.

12 Feb 2014 10:37 PM

It's why I like Vinceremos, he's still learning and I think getting the outside post in the TBD will be beneficial to him.  As you said though, they both need to learn quickly.

12 Feb 2014 11:42 PM
Bethany Loftis

Interesting article that makes you go hmm, especially regarding Harpoon and his playful track history. Thank you for introducing two more in greater detail for me to keep an eye on!

Coldfacts - "stress" in the breeding shed and "overbreeding" a stallion has no affect on his genetic makeup at all. One mare a day or five, each prospective foal still gets 50% of their chromosomes from their sire and dam; genes don't get to decide they're tired or stressed and don't want to move on. The only thing you risk sacrificing with breeding multiple mares a day is sperm count, thus decreasing the chance of pregnancy. The Jockey Club has done a pretty decent job on maintaining breed integrity by keeping the foal crop relatively low to the thanks of "breed by live cover only." Within the AQHA however, it's not unheard of for a performance stallion to enter stud their two year old, or even yearling seasons (if they're developed enough) and cover 250+ mares with the aid of AI and shipped semen. Top AQHA stallions have been known to cover 400+ (ie Smart Chic Olena, Kids Classic Style, Shining Spark) a single season without shuttling. While those are ridiculous numbers, it has zero affect on which of the stallions genes get passed on, still 50%.

13 Feb 2014 7:56 AM
Tiz Herself

Correct me if I am wrong, but Corinthian could be a litte 'hot or green' in his early days of racing, but with maturity, he turned out just fine. Corinthian of course went on to when the Met Mile and BC Dirt Mile as a four year old before being retired to stud and earned $1.267+ million.

And then there was the horse Eightyinafifty and his crazy race in the.... 2010 Whirlaway?

And then there was the horse from last year (mind went blank....his name was...?) that ran through the starting gate and lost by a head...

It's the quirky ones that we remember :-)

13 Feb 2014 8:34 AM
Tiz Herself

Someone once told me that the Pulpits (sire of Tapit's) kids could be a little 'hot', too... ?

13 Feb 2014 8:36 AM
Tiz Herself

And who can ever forget Fort Larned's Gulfstream Park Handicap? When he stumbled at the gate, lost his rider, and continued on his way...lol... that is something I will never forget.

13 Feb 2014 8:40 AM

Bethany Loftis

"stress" in the breeding shed and "overbreeding" a stallion has no affect on his genetic makeup at all.”

Many thanks for your insightful input. I am a bit confused by the above quote. It appears to be directed to the stallion and not its progenies. It was never my intention to infer that overbreeding impacted genes transfer. I specified that “The Tapits will always be good, fragile and crazy”

I am more focused on the fragility of horses from over bred stallions. Despite breeding between 190-200 mares per year, Giants Causeway has never been represented by a horse that finished on the Derby board. In fact he has only been represented by 5 starters. Both Giants Causeway and Madaglia D' Oro bred 185 mares in 2009 and not one of the resulting 3YOs made the Derby field. I am sure those that were campaigned in the US were excellent ability wise but were structurally deficient.

Tapits is a hot stallion that has turning out winners like bakery does bread. He has been breeding 160-180 mares in the last 4yrs. He has been represented by two Derby starters. One finished 4th and has not races since. He has 16 nominated to the 2014 Triple Crown series of races. I expect the majority to develop physical or mentally issues that will prevent their participation in the Derby. These are all talented horses from an overbred stallion. These progenies have proven to be very fragile physically and mentally.

No stallion that has bred over 150 mares in a season has ever produced a Derby winner. In fact they rarely have a Derby starter and when they do they mostly finish amongst the also ran.

13 Feb 2014 1:23 PM

Vinceremos is a very nice colt that I was obliged to include in my Dozen. Was that a premature move based on his numbers? No! Only the exceptionally talented can do what he has done on two occasions and display the courage and the heart to win. He has never been under severe whipping as in his two victories he has been literally pinned against the rails.

This colt is a runner. I see no need for him to mature. He just has to keep running as fast as it takes to win and avoid assaulting the rail. Will his number improve in time to be competitive in the Derby? I am not concerned about that as he needs points not fast times or high Beyers.

13 Feb 2014 1:40 PM

Steve, good observation as usual on a horses progression. Harpoon, I believe, is not really ready for a Kentucy Derby attempt but the Preakness is more in tune with his progression.

As for Tapit, if a stallion can get 10% of his male crop into real Kentucky Derby  possibility then he is not doing too bad. I agree they can be highly strung, but breathtaking to watch when good.

13 Feb 2014 3:39 PM
Bethany Loftis

Coldfacts - thanks for taking the time to respond! I appreciate it and always enjoy reading your insight. I guess I am the one confused now. I fail to understand how overbreeding a stallion causes increased fragility when a lot is in the genetic makeup of both parents, with some environmental factors, as well as conditioning issues. Please don't misunderstand me. I completely agree with you in regards to Tapit and his offspring, however I chose to believe that it is genetics (correct me if I'm wrong, Tapit's sire, Pulpit retired unsound as did the horse himself), and not overbreeding. I believe the problem lies in breeding unsound horses to unsound horses in large numbers. If we were "overbreeding" sound to sound, somehow I don't think we would be questioning a stallion's over use resulting fragile offspring. In regards to a stallion's overbreeding preventing him from producing a Derby winner, roughly 40,000 foals are born each year. Only 20 make it to the gate the first Saturday in May, and only one may go home a winner. That said, it is impressive for a stallion to sire a single Derby starter let alone a winner.

I know this is off topic from what we are discussing, but what are your thoughts on Wicked Strong?


13 Feb 2014 7:25 PM

“The Tapits will always be good, fragile and crazy”

I just watched Tap It Rich and I am convinced the colt has some serious mental issues. I like another Tapit colt by the name Fire Starter. He is no different from Tap It Rich. He blew the turn in his second race and had to be pulled up. He blew the turn again in the Smarty Jones and finished  a very good 5th.

Mr. Pletcher has about 6 Tapit colts and I hope they are not head cases.

13 Feb 2014 7:26 PM

Bethany Loftis:

Frustrating, isn't it. He (Coldfacts) can't even comprehend the point/message/meaning of his own words. Don't bother wasting your time, it's hopeless. Apparently, people can say...and say...and say... anything they want on these blogs, as long as they're civil. So in the end it's all just fun and games, but nothing more.

13 Feb 2014 7:48 PM


I have taken the liberty of capitalizing the first letter in your posting ID. I hope same will find favor with you as I am aware all issues related to me fuels disgust.

I appreciate the fact that you have taken time out from your busy schedule to again define me for another of Mr. Haskin’s supporters. I am surprised that you didn’t inform the contributor that I provide misinformation to the vulnerable less informed.

I have accumulated records over the last five years on the stallions that have bred 150 and upwards to 200 mares. I have tallied the number of starters they have been represented by in the Derby and their finishing positions. None of the progenies of these stallions have won the great race.

Of the stallions that bred over 150 mares in 2009, only Tapit was represented by a starter. Normandy Invasion was the first from the overbreds to hit the board in the 5 years that I have been gather the data.  Subsequent to the Derby he not been seen. He was not the best of the progenies from the overbred stallions as Flashback and Violence were better. However, they prove to be fragile and suffered injuries. Violence was retired and Flashback has not been the same horse since the injury.

You might be of the opinion that I am silly to conclude that there is a correlation between books of mares bred and Derby winning horses. You may very well be right. If a horse sired by Tapits, Candy Ride, Giants Causeway, Dunkirk, Medaglia d'Oro, Malibu Moon, Harlan’s Holiday and 9 other stallions that bred over 150 mares wins the 2014 Derby, I will destroy my records and never mention this issue again.

Shared Belief, Candy Boy, Havana, Matterhorn, Intense Holiday are all products of books of mares >150. They certainly have the potential to win the Derby and prove me conclusion wrong.

You can disagree without being disparaging. You are bright enough to know that.

14 Feb 2014 3:09 AM
Bethany Loftis

Sceptre - lol I'm slowly starting to realize that ;) it's always fun to talk horses with other horse crazy people, and get into a friendly debate every once in a while. Another reason I love Steve's blog! He always writes something thought provoking while providing a friendly environment for open discussion. The best part? Like you said, it's all in good fun!

14 Feb 2014 7:34 AM

@Bethany Loftis  "Within the AQHA however, it's not unheard of for a performance stallion to enter stud their two year old, or even yearling seasons (if they're developed enough) and cover 250+ mares with the aid of AI and shipped semen. Top AQHA stallions have been known to cover 400+ (ie Smart Chic Olena, Kids Classic Style, Shining Spark) a single season without shuttling."

Do you have some sort of source for these numbers you're citing as fact? Smart Chic Olena sired an average of 80 foals a year over his career. Kids Classic Style has sired an average of 54 foals, and Shining Spark has averaged 63. Even all-time leading race sire First Down Dash only sired an average of 87 foals per year. According to 2011 figures (the most recent complete numbers I have access to), the race-bred AQHA sire with the most foals was 161 (PYC Paint Your Wagon). The top 100 race stallions sired 4,069 foals in 2011 -- which means an average of just under 41 foals per stallion. These are not out of line with Thoroughbred numbers. And breeding yearlings is certainly not a common practice in AQHA circles.

14 Feb 2014 3:13 PM

I find it interesting that so many are so dismissive of Derby trends. At least 8 of the horses comprising Mr. Haskin’s dozen will have to overcome long standing Derby trends to win the great race. His #1 rank horse is a prime example.

Top Billing: His sire Curlin was the sire of 2013 Belmont winner Place Malice. In the last 50 years, no stallion that sired the winner of a TC race in a particular year has been noted as a sire of a winner of a TC race the following year. A Derby winner sired by Preakness winner and out of a mare sired by a Belmont winner is even harder to find. No stallion that has sired either 150 mares or more has been associated with a Derby winner.

Based purely on historic data, Top Billing is not expected to be the 2014 Derby winner despite the exceptional ability he has displayed. The Derby has been contested over the last 139 years. It has a bizarre history that many exceptionally talented 3YOs have failed miserably to rewrite.

15 Feb 2014 10:36 AM

Not to mention that last year's Belmont was run in a ridiculously slow time, especially the last 1/2 mile. Beware those sires that had great stamina on steroids, but failed to fire when run off of them. This whole argument is indicative of the beauty of nature - one cannot mate A with B and expect them offspring to be exactly like each other , or like the parents.

16 Feb 2014 2:20 PM

Coldfacts: You write abou the stress Tapit must undergo in the breeding shed, covering 3 mares per day ...are you kidding? The stallion is enjoying himself everytime pal ...I mean, every single time.

I don't argue with your "overbreeding" observation ...I find it interesting and am watching to see your theory crash this year as well as mine if Honor Code (the great hope of the notoriously overbred pensioned stallion A P Indy) wins the Derby.

16 Feb 2014 3:37 PM


"The stallion is enjoying himself every time pal ...I mean, every single time."

My dear colleague you have certainly been known for your humor over the years.

I have given a lot of consideration to your claim and as usual I have provided what I consider to be cold facts:

'Over indulgence in the most pleasurable of activities  will invariably produce negative consequences.'  

On the subject of overbreeding, I realize that I am alone with my views on this issue. It appears I am the only one compiling any data on the number of mares bred, reports of live foals and the physical and mental fragility of foals produced from large books.

As soon as a stallion gets hot its appeal increases considerably. Farm capitalize on said appeal by significantly expanding its annual book of mares.

This practice would probably be fine if we raced primarily on turf in the US. However, most of our premier races are contested on dirt a less forgiving surface.

It should not be forgotten that in the US, both stallions and mares that had racing career were exposed to a lot of race medications. Have you every noticed that a 2YO or 3YO will be a nonentity and as soon as Lasix is administered it come alive. That's like giving a crack head a fix. I have often wondered if the US bred horses have become Lasix dependent because their parents were Lasix junkies.

18 Feb 2014 7:59 AM
sara futh

Interesting? I would say frightening, if they don't learn better manners before they hit the crowded field in the Derby. Pletcher has always had a great bunch of assistants who evidently learned how to overcome green racing through schooling in the a.m.  Tapit craziness or no, these two boys need to go back to the drawing board. Or be allowed to grow up before they hit the bigtime.

18 Feb 2014 2:24 PM

"Who knows if the stress associated with breeding so many mares impacts the foals."

Answer: Everybody knows. Almost. There are some east Indian sects that worry about expending the life force in sex, but they figure the answer is learning not to ejaculate during orgasm

Stallions are not stressed by breeding; it relaxes the hell out of them. What's to stress them? The mares are ready to go, they won't be turned down, there's no competition to fight, they are not shy about an audience, and nobody is going to laugh and point.

A semen sample is collected and labbed on the dismount to look for any signs of overbreeding: reduced sperm count and sperm quality, which includes number of immature sperm.

We can be sure we don't have to worry about old, tired sperm that are near the end of their brief lifespan because they've been hanging about waiting for mares.

18 Feb 2014 2:26 PM
Jean in Chicago

Ti Herself,

Interesting that you mention the 2010 Whirlaway--I've read that Whirlaway won his first race tight on the rail-unfortunately, it was the outside rail.  It was agreed that, even though he was a bit crazy, it was definitely worth the effort involved in teaching him how to be a more efficient race horse.  Obviously it paid off.

There is a big difference between 'training' and 'conditioning'.  Training involved teaching a horse not to fear the starting gate, to exit the gate properly without slamming into the horses on either side, to not wander all over the track.   In other words, to act like a professional athlete and not a kid playing Dodge-em cars.  Until a horse learns this he's a danger to himself and everybody else on the track even if he does manage to cross the finish line first.  

20 Feb 2014 1:24 PM

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