05/02/2016 4:32PM

Sires of the 2016 Kentucky Derby: Tapit

Barbara D. Livingston

In September 2002, longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder Verne Winchell picked out the last horse he would ever buy – a $625,000 son of Pulpit at the Keeneland September yearling sale. Winchell sent the horse to Keith Asmussen in Texas for his early lessons on being a racehorse. Two months later, Winchell died of a heart attack.

More than 13 years later, that horse, Tapit, has continued to pay dividends for Winchell Thoroughbreds, now led by Verne’s wife, Joan Winchell, and her son Ron. 

“I definitely refer to Tapit as the gift that keeps on giving,” trainer Steve Asmussen says of North America’s two-time reigning leading sire. “It’s been amazing, especially with Tapit getting his early training at Mom and Dad’s place. And he’s been a great success story for the Winchells.”

:: Sires of the 2016 Kentucky Derby | Download the Derby Sire Guide

Tapit, whom the Winchells sent to the eccentric Michael Dickinson after graduating from the Asmussen farm, won 3 of 6 starts during his racing career. He captured the Grade 3 Laurel Futurity in just his second start and made a sweeping move to win the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in just his fourth start. He finished ninth to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

Tapit entered stud at Gainesway Farm in 2005 for a modest fee of $15,000 and quickly began climbing the ladder. He was North America’s leading freshman sire of 2008 when his first crop included Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion Stardom Bound. His bankroll of $2,811,337 was then a record in the category. Tapit climbed his way into the top 10 general sires for the first time three years later, finishing third as his son Hansen won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to lock up an Eclipse Award. He finished fourth on the list in 2012 and seventh in 2013. He has dominated that list ever since.

In 2014, Tapit broke through with Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner and champion Untapable, and Tonalist, who won the Belmont Stakes and went on to win two editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Those two powered him to earnings of $16,813,536, breaking Smart Strike’s single-season earnings record for a North American stallion of $14,358,570, established in 2007. There was a second act. In 2015, led by Grade 1-winning millionaire Frosted, and with Untapable and Tonalist both winning additional Grade 1 events, Tapit bankrolled $18,397,691, breaking his own record.

Tapit’s advertised stud fee, which has climbed steadily, was set at $300,000 for 2015, making him North America’s most expensive stallion – and, moreover, the first to stand for that amount since 2008, when Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, and Distorted Humor each commanded that fee.

Through April 20, Tapit’s combined progeny earnings stood at $94,861,224 – an average of $124,982 per starter – putting him well on pace to reach the $100 million milestone this season. He has 78 stakes winners, 51 of those having won graded or group events. His other top runners include Grade 1-winning millionaires Tapitsfly, Constitution, Joyful Victory, Ring Weekend, and Careless Jewel; Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Tapizar; multiple graded stakes winner and millionaire Tapiture; and Grade 1 winners Zazu, Laragh, Dance Card, and Tell a Kelly.

“He can get you any kind of horse,” said Michael Hernon, Gainesway’s director of sales. “He really moves his mares up, and they run at all distances on all surfaces. I think their one basic characteristic is their competitiveness at the highest level of racing. They’re really tough horses with great cardios, they stay sound, and they generally have a lot of speed and the ability to carry it.”

Tapit has had three more graded stakes winners emerge within the last six months to give him a trio of Kentucky Derby candidates. Mohaymen has won 5 of 6 starts, including four graded events; Creator rallied to win the Arkansas Derby; and Japanese-based Lani won the UAE Derby in Dubai. Tapit and first-crop phenom Uncle Mo – who broke Tapit’s freshman earnings record last year – will be the first stallions to have three horses in the Derby since Cox’s Ridge did in 1984.

Creator is trained by Steve Asmussen, who has conditioned Untapable and Tapiture for the Winchell family. Owner WinStar Farm sent Creator to Asmussen in large part because of that success.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Asmussen said. “If I do have the key to it, I sure don’t plan on giving it away.”