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Tapit: Horseracing's top bachelor


Thursday, February 28, 2013 |
More than anything, the 2013 Kentucky Derby, which is just 65 days away, is shaping up to be the race that settles one burning question: Could Tapit become the most coveted breeding stallion of his generation, or will his progeny turn out to be more like their father?

And by "more like their father" I mean: underachieving Guinness-guzzling party animals who show less acumen at the track than the breeding shed. "He was never shy," says Tapit's former trainer, Michael Dickinson, who admits feeding the horse a daily pint.

So far, the 12-year old Tapit seems to have all the appropriate voodoo in his genes. Tapit has produced 40 stakes-winning progeny and his offspring have earned over $40 million, according to Gainesway, the farm where he currently stands. He's already mated with Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year, whose foal, due in late March, may steal some magazine pages from Kate and William's baby. He has a date in the breeding shed as early as next week with the 2011 Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace.

Tapit's stud fee, $125,000 per mating, reflects the relatively depressed state of the breeding industry, but is one of the highest in the country. How high could it go? Insiders are having a little trouble containing their enthusiasm. "He will probably end up as the highest-priced stallion at some stage in his career, whatever that level is," said Geoffrey Russell, director of sales at the auction house Keeneland.

Tapit's leading 3-year-old is Flashback, one of three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert's top contenders this year, who has won both his career races, including the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis S. Feb. 2. He will likely make his next start in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9, also at California's Santa Anita Park.

So why have the owners of some of the world's most valuable fillies, and a wide segment of the industry, chosen to breed to him?

Savvy breeders knew Tapit's top-notch pedigree and recognized something else: grit. In the only race he won as a 3-year-old, the 2004 Wood Memorial (G1) at New York's Aqueduct Racetrack, he rallied from last place and won, despite having a cold. "He was coughing after," said Dickinson. "We never saw him at his best."

Tapit's rise to stallion stardom began at bottom-level prices, a stud fee of $15,000 in 2005. His first crop of progeny, which included the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Stardom Bound, quickly increased his value. For 2009, his stud fee more than doubled, and Careless Jewel, a filly, won the 2009 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, which is run at 1 ¼ miles, the same distance as the Kentucky Derby. Again, his stud fee rose.

Then came Hansen. At the 2011 Breeders' Cup, the stunning white horse upset the field at 7-1 odds to win the $2 million Juvenile. More remarkably, the mare that produced Hansen was bought by the owner for only $5,000.

By contrast, breeder Amanda Pope spent $10 million to purchase Havre de Grace, who won nine of 16 starts and earned over $2.5 million during her racing career. Pope chose Tapit to sire the filly's first foal. She liked Tapit's connections to the legendary broodmare La Troienne, and had successfully bred other mares to Tapit's father, the deceased Pulpit.

David Ingordo, the bloodstock agent who consulted on Zenyatta's pairings with Tapit, and previously with the stallion Bernardini, said it's "only a matter of time" before Tapit's progeny consistently win at the classic distances since he's now breeding to the best mares.

The results of these all-star pairings won't be known for years to come. But if more than one Tapit foal gets to the Derby, and if one should win, the demand for his yearlings and 2-year-olds is expected to push to $1 million and beyond at the September auctions—numbers that are as high as it gets in the current market. That would likely be followed by a bump in Tapit's stud fee by Gainesway.

"Tapit appears to be the first one who could push through again," said independent bloodstock agent Michael McMahon, of McMahon & Hill.

-this article by Pia Catton reprinted courtesy of the Wall Street Journal