02/13/2015 3:55PM

Leading Kentucky sires: Tapit

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Tapit, who stands at Gainesway in Lexington, Ky., was Kentucky's leading general sire of 2014.

Leading Kentucky general sire by progeny earnings and stakes wins

When looking back on the year Tapit and his progeny had in 2014, the only problem is finding a place to start.

Perhaps it’s best to start with his runners. The 14-year-old son of Pulpit was represented by his third Eclipse Award winner in the champion 3-year-old filly Untapable, whose four Grade 1 victories included the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Tapit also picked up his first American classic when Tonalist won the Belmont Stakes.

Others may find the stallion’s overall body of work in 2014 more appealing. The resident of Gainesway in Lexington, Ky., set the single-season record by North American progeny earnings on Nov. 2. With essentially two months to pad his lead, Tapit finished 2014 with 156 winners from 322 runners and earnings of $16,813,536. His 36 stakes victories also led all Kentucky stallions last year.

Those with an eye to the market might be most impressed by the performance of his foals at auction. Tapit sired the co-highest-priced yearling and co-highest-priced 2-year-old of their respective seasons and had a weanling filly sell for $3 million, a North American weanling record, at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

For some, that all might be a means to an end. Tapit will stand for an advertised fee of $300,000 during the 2015 breeding season, doubling his fee from 2014 and making him the first stallion to command that amount since Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, and Distorted Humor in 2008.

Tapit had a year for the ages in 2014.

“Every year has been better than the last with him,” said David Fiske, farm and racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, which raced Tapit and still owns a large interest in him. “He’s been pretty steadily climbing up the ranks, and last year, he planted himself on the top of the mountain.”

Tapit has been a high-profile commodity at stud since 2008, when his first crop took him to the top of the list, not only among first-crop sires but among all sires of 2-year-olds. Since then, his résumé has grown in the breeding shed, in the sales ring, and most importantly, on the racetrack, leading to his first reign atop the Kentucky and national general sire standings by progeny earnings.

“His books have gotten increasingly better year after year, and I think 2014 was finally a year when a large number of the offspring of those better mares finally hit the racetrack,” Fiske said. “Given that he was a $15,000 horse to start with and dropped to $12,500, he wasn’t getting the best mares on the planet, and then he was and is.”

Tapit’s runners were led in 2014 by a pair of homebreds from Winchell Thoroughbreds – operated by Ron Winchell and formerly by his late father, Verne – which purchased Tapit as a yearling for $625,000 at the 2002 Keeneland September sale.

Untapable carried the standard for the Winchells and her sire, winning 6 of 7 starts and earning $2,808,600 in 2014, while also winning an Eclipse Award in a unanimous vote.

“Untapable is just a gift,” Fiske said. “I don’t know how else to put it. We’ve had quite a few Tapits and quite a few of them that have won stakes, but she may be the best horse we’ve ever produced.”
Winchell also campaigned Tapiture, a three-time graded stakes winner and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Arguably, the biggest résumé-builder Tapit received in 2014 was Tonalist’s victory in the Belmont Stakes. It gave him his first winner in a Triple Crown race and proved his progeny can excel at a distance of ground.

“The development and the emergence of Tonalist was pivotal to the horse in my mind,” said Michael Hernon, director of sales at Gainesway. “Here’s an improving 3-year-old who wins the Belmont Stakes, an American classic, going a mile and a half at Belmont Park. There’s nowhere to hide out there. … That was, I thought, a big feather in his cap.”

What makes Tapit a stallion to watch is to see if he can attain a place with the all-time great sires.

“He becomes a really hard horse to argue against,” Hernon said. “When you look at the mares and how he moves those up, you’re left wondering what he’s going to produce with these Grade 1 winners who are obviously well managed from great families. I think he’s a great big iceberg sitting in the water, and you just have no idea how big he is.”