02/15/2008 1:00AM

Derby contender a third-generation reward

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - With his scintillating victory in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds, Pyro galloped into favoritism among individual interests in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

The colt's prominence this season is no surprise, as this handsome bay son of the A.P. Indy stallion Pulpit was ranked second last year to only the divisional champion and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, War Pass, who finished ahead of Pyro in that race and the Champagne.

But more than his athletic excellence makes Pyro a special horse. Bred in Kentucky by Winchell Thoroughbreds, he is the third generation bred by the Winchell family, and that length of involvement in developing a family is becoming increasingly rare in the breed.

The late Verne Winchell claimed the third dam of Pyro, the Whitesburg mare Carols Christmas, and began the successful program of breeding that has resulted in Pyro.

David Fiske, manager of the Winchell family's Corinthia Farm outside Lexington, recalled that Winchell called and told Fiske about claiming Carols Christmas and left her in California for a mating with Flying Paster.

Then, carrying the foal by Flying Paster, Carols Christmas arrived in Kentucky. Fiske said: "When she got off the van, I thought, 'This cannot be our mare.' She was horribly swaybacked. She stood about 16-1 and had a pretty head and neck, but she had a bad back. However, she did not breed the swayback and had some really useful foals."

The most useful of them was the mare's sixth foal, Grade 1 winner Olympio, who won the Arkansas Derby, American Derby, Hollywood Derby, and Malibu in an active and versatile 3-year-old campaign.

After Carols Christmas produced Olympio, the mare foaled a pair of stakes winners by Wild Again: Call Now and Your Call. Call Now was the better on the racetrack, winning the Grade 2 Del Mar Debutante and running second in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf.

But the most important offspring of Carols Christmas for this story was the mare's second foal, Carol's Wonder, a gray mare by the Al Hattab stallion Pass the Tab.

Pass the Tab was an understandable choice for the Whitesburg mare because "we owned a lot of stallion shares in those days," Fiske said, "somewhere between 50 or 60," including an interest in Pass the Tab. And Carols Christmas was a half-sister to a high-class English-raced filly named Al Stanza, by Al Hattab.

Carol's Wonder was a good racer, winning three races, finishing second in a pair of stakes and third in the Grade 3 A Gleam Handicap.

Because of the successes of her half-sister Call Now, Carol's Wonder went to Wild Again and produced a better athlete than herself, Grade 2 stakes winner Wild Wonder. Once Wild Wonder's quality was evident, the mare was naturally sent back to Breeders' Cup Classic winner Wild Again.

The mare's two subsequent foals by that stallion were both fillies. The first was the nonwinner Another Wonder, and the second was Wild Vision, who won her only start as a juvenile. Then she was hurt.

Fiske said the farm didn't risk Wild Vision any further.

"We had a full sister to a graded stakes winner who could run a little and fractured her knee," he said. "We never did surgery, just brought her home and retired her."

The second foal out of Wild Vision is Pyro.

In evaluating mates for the young mare, Fiske knew that this family had become one of the cornerstones of the Winchell breeding program, and Wild Vision had indicated she had enough talent to be mated with care.

Entering into the decision-making was the fact that Tapit, a gray son of Pulpit, had shown high ability in winning the 2003 Laurel Futurity and was the Winchell Stable's leading prospect for the Kentucky Derby.

For the matings of 2004, Fiske said that "we were looking for a way to use Pulpit, and this mare fit. And we thought that Pulpit was pretty good value at the time for $35,000."

Now standing for $80,000 live foal and booked full at that price, Pulpit, a powerful bay son of A.P. Indy, also sired Bsharpsonata, winner of the Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream last weekend. He is the most successful son of Horse of the Year A.P. Indy so far at stud, and Pulpit's son Tapit will have his first runners this year.

After producing Pyro, Carol's Wonder went to Tapit and has a 2-year-old filly by him. The mare has a yearling colt by Gulch and is back in foal to Tapit, due April 8. She will return to Pulpit this year.

The syndicated Tapit stands at Gainesway Farm, and Winchell Thoroughbreds retains an interest in the horse. They also have Cuvee at Gainesway, and that Grade 1 winner by Carson City also will have his first runners in 2008.

Cuvee is out of a half-sister to Carol's Wonder, the Star de Naskra mare Christmas Star, who won two of her three races.

Fiske said: "We still own most of the family. When Cuvee went to stud, half the mares on the farm were related to him, and we didn't get the chance to breed as many mares to him as we'd have liked his first year at stud. We ended up buying some mares to breed to him and bought some foals."

Even with that hiccup, for the Winchells, having the Carols Christmas family is like having Christmas all year long.