04/15/2004 11:00PM

Pulpit continues to be a hot commodity

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Tapit, a son of Claiborne Farm stallion Pulpit, won the Wood Memorial last weekend with the most impressive finish among the day's Kentucky Derby preps. As a result, the good-looking gray colt will surely be one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby on May 1. Beaten only in the Florida Derby, when he was later found to have a lung infection, Tapit showed the courage and strong finish in the Wood that are necessary for any horse going 10 furlongs.

Derby observers and bettors are not the only ones with an interest in Tapit and his prospects. Horse breeders and buyers certainly took notice. And breeders play with larger chips than the betting public, even though their business is still a most uncertain gamble.

Yet three days after the Wood, Coolmore Stud and partners cast their vote of confidence in Pulpit and his prospects by purchasing an imposing son of the stallion at Keeneland's select sale of 2-year-olds in training on Tuesday for $3.3 million.

The price was a record for a 2-year-old at Keeneland, and it follows a series of record-breaking prices at earlier sales of 2-year-olds in training this spring. Those horses typically showed very good speed and maturity, as well as solid conformation.

The Pulpit colt was no different. He was quick and long-striding, especially for a big colt. And Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm said, "Like the Unbridleds, the Pulpits have the natural ability to perform early, but you're probably better off waiting on them."

Hancock's observation is confirmed by the record book. Despite their natural speed, the Pulpits have done their best racing in the late summer or fall of their 2-year-old season and thereafter.

The good looks and speed of his offspring have kept Pulpit popular with breeders. But horses that are good-looking, stylish, and impressive won't sell for much if a stallion's stock isn't making the grade on the racetrack, and the key to the demand for Pulpit's young horses has been the quality of their success on the track.

From his first crop came multiple Grade 2 winner Essence of Dubai, who won the Norfolk, UAE Derby, and Super Derby; from the second came Sky Mesa, who won the Grade 1 Hopeful at 2 and was a Grade 1 performer last year at 3. Both are now at stud.

And the leader of Pulpit's third crop is Tapit. Like Essence of Dubai, Sky Mesa, and most of Pulpit's offspring, Tapit showed good form at 2, winning the Laurel Futurity, and he has carried that form forward into his second season.

In assessing Pulpit's characteristics as a sire, Hancock said, "He's not too unlike where Unbridled was at this stage in his career. Both get you two-turn dirt horses with natural speed. They do have stamina, and if you've got that anymore, you're already on second base because so many of the horses these days can't go on."

The prospect of buying a horse who can compete at the higher levels of racing, going around two turns, is the key to the premium stock at the 2-year-old, as well as the yearling, sales. Coolmore, especially in alliance with Michael Tabor, and its international rival Godolphin have shown a definite preference for colts who have every element needed to go two turns. Early maturity and high speed are important, but the really big money comes down when a young horse also shows the very strong likelihood that he can be a classic competitor.

The classics are the road to glory, and at the end of the day, the horses who perform well are worth a great deal. The horses who win are worth fortunes.

Among the living sires of American classic horses, no stallion stands in higher regard than A.P. Indy, and his best-proven son at stud is Pulpit. The deceased Old Trieste had shown promise, with Minister Eric, second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, among his first runners.

One of 13 stakes winners from the first crop of Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, Pulpit has the most power of any of the stallion's sons. As this is also the branch of Seattle Slew's male line that appears to be breeding on best, stallion managers are quite interested in acquiring a stake in sons of A.P. Indy and now those by Pulpit.

Hancock noted that in the offspring of Pulpit, "The A.P. Indy comes through," in regard to both natural speed and general physiology. He said, "Pulpit himself has a good throat, and his offspring have good throats," which is another important consideration for horses that can go a distance.

Last year's leading sire, A.P. Indy owed that position in part to the 2003 Horse of the Year, Mineshaft, who proved himself the best racer by winning premium graded stakes at nine and 10 furlongs. Bred like Pulpit (out of a daughter of Mr. Prospector), Mineshaft will get every chance to succeed his sire at Lane's End Farm.

"And right now," according to Ed Anthony, matings adviser at Three Chimneys Farm, "A.P. Indy looks like the sire of sires for the breeder who is searching for the classic horse."