Tapit—North America’s leading sire three years running—didn’t get a chance to run in the Belmont Stakes (G1), but his presence in the American classic race certainly has been felt the last few years. The son of Pulpit—who also didn’t start in the Belmont—has sired the winner of the 12-furlong classic three out of the last four years, and in 2015 when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, Tapit’s Frosted ran second in the “test of the champion.”
Tapwrit, out of the precocious Appealing Zophie, rushed past favorite Irish War Cry to win this year’s Belmont by two lengths, joining last year’s winner Creator and Tonalist, who foiled California Chrome’s bid for the Triple Crown in 2014, as sons of Tapit to win the Belmont. While there have been several sires to have back-to-back Belmont-winning progeny, and one broodmare (Better Than Honour), none have sired three out of four. Since the June 10 running was the 149th, it says something about the sire that stands at Gainesway near Lexington.
Tapit raced for Winchell Thoroughbreds, and Ron Winchell has retained a half-interest in the horse who commands a $300,000 stud fee. Winchell has bred many of Tapit’s 100 stakes winners and seen most of them run. The Belmont, he feels, is a perfect race for his offspring.
“His breeding is the perfect mix of speed and stamina,” Winchell said the day after the Belmont from his home in Las Vegas.
“When the pace slows down like you typically see in the Belmont, they tend to be able to run on all day long. The pace of the race seems to really suit his offspring,” he said. “Typically you see the Tapits running forwardly placed—they’re pretty good-paced. Their best weapon is to run everybody else off their feet. They are able to cruise, too, but they really don’t a have a lot of ‘closing speed.’ The Belmont race seems to be the reverse…the whole pace slows down, and they’re so well within themselves they can run on.”
While neither Tapit nor his sire ran in the third leg of the Triple Crown, Tapit’s grandsire did. A.P. Indy, a son of Seattle Slew, won the 1992 Belmont on his way to Horse of the Year honors. He has sired 164 stakes winners.
Pulpit didn’t race beyond his fourth-place finish in the 1997 Kentucky Derby (G1) but did show explosive speed in an all-too-brief six-race career. As for Tapit, “There’s a lot of that A.P. Indy-distance influence mixed in there along with the speed you saw Pulpit have,” Winchell said.
A student of the game, Winchell remembers seeing A.P. Indy as a 2-year-old in 1991 at Hollywood Park.
That combo of speed and distance has put Winchell in plenty of winner’s circles, but not for the Belmont yet. Don’t count him out, though. He’s working on it.
“I like to focus on the Derby,” he said of his program and breeding philosophy. “But I tell you it changes a little bit of my thinking…because when we do have a runner in the Derby…it’s like, don’t forget the Belmont. I haven’t had this conversation directly with (trainer) Steve (Asmussen) yet, but with the right horse I will.”
From Las Vegas, Winchell gets to Kentucky a handful of times a year and always makes it a point to visit the 16-year-old stallion. He’s usually around for the yearling sales and even though Tapit doesn’t need it, Winchell has a pretty good sales pitch.
“Tapit seems to get a superstar in every crop,” he said. “I tell people, ‘When you go to a sale, you can almost guarantee that there will be a superstar from Tapit coming out of this crop. If you are looking for a superstar, go pick one of the Tapits.’ You have a pretty good chance there.”
And a pretty good chance at a classic winner, too.