04/27/2016 9:56AM

Handling Tapit's progeny often is no easy task

Coady Photography
Creator, shown winning the Arkansas Derby, is one of three contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby, along with Mohaymen and Lani.

The blood runs hot in the Thoroughbred, and few are hotter right now – on a number of levels – than those by Tapit.

Tapit is North America’s two-time reigning leading sire, breaking his own single-season earnings record last year, and is on track to surpass $100 million in career progeny earnings in 2016. The Gainesway Farm stallion stands for $300,000, the highest advertised fee in North America, and his yearlings averaged $603,074 at public auctions in North America last year.

Still, Tapit’s offspring also come with a “handle with care” caveat, as they are famously feisty.

“I think one thing about Tapits is they don’t like to be told what to do,” Ron Winchell, who campaigned Tapit and bred and owns several of his top runners, said. “So, I think you get the best performance out of them when you kind of let them run and kind of be where they want to be. The minute you try to push them into a position they don’t want to be, they kind of fight the jockey, and then the jockey never seems to win that battle.”

One man who has learned how to handle the hot-blooded Tapits is trainer Steve Asmussen, who conditions Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Untapable and millionaire multiple graded stakes winner Tapiture, both owned and bred by Winchell. His work with those runners prompted WinStar Farm to send Asmussen a horse for the first time – Arkansas Derby winner Creator.

“He’s been a very high-strung horse in the beginning,” WinStar president and chief executive Elliott Walden said. “I liked what Steve had done with some of the Tapits he’s had in the past, so that’s why we sent Creator to him. Didn’t want to send him to New York to where he’d run with the big guys. We felt like he was the kind of horse that if you pressed him too hard too early, he might come apart on you.

“Steve has done a really good job with him,” Walden added. “Some of the Tapits can be very high-strung. We just felt that Steve has done real well, and in the Midwest particularly, with bringing them along without putting them up against the toughest maiden races at Saratoga.”

Creator is one of three expected entrants for Tapit in the Kentucky Derby, along with Grade 2 winner Mohaymen and Group 2 winner Lani. Tapit and Uncle Mo will be the first stallions with three starters in the Derby since Cox’s Ridge in 1984.

The Japanese-based Lani is also known for being a handful, requiring special handling to save his energy pre-race. Before winning the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby in March, he was saddled away from the crowd. He then went straight from the Meydan paddock out to the track instead of going into the walking ring.

“The Meydan staff [was] very kind to us, allowing us to take the best care of Lani as possible,” trainer Mikio Matsunaga said. “He can be very troublesome, so we really appreciated the allowances given to us by the track staff.”

Mohaymen was making just his second career start in the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes last fall at Aqueduct – and the inexperienced colt had to overcome his own antics in the paddock and at the starting gate before winning that day. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Tapit’s Grade 1-winning millionaire Frosted, put Mohaymen through some extra schooling following that episode.

“He reared up twice in the saddling area before the Nashua, which made me a little nervous because he had never done anything wrong,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a very professional gentleman to train and be around. He also was reluctant to load in the gate that day, and that was new. After the race, we gate-schooled him several times. He acted up the first time we went, and then he got better and better and was great, and he got over whatever he was reluctant about.”

Mohaymen has matured throughout the winter and spring, going on to win the Remsen Stakes, Holy Bull Stakes, and Fountain of Youth, all Grade 2 events, before suffering his first defeat when beaten by Nyquist in the Florida Derby.

“He’s a real gentleman,” McLaughlin said of Mohaymen’s development following the Fountain of Youth. “He does everything right. And sometimes, by Tapit, they don’t do that.”

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