05/01/2017 2:36PM

Stars lined up to buy Tapwrit

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Barbara D. Livingston
Tapwrit was one of the top sellers of the 2015 Saratoga Selected Yearling sale.

The partnership formed to buy Grade 2 winner and Kentucky Derby contender Tapwrit for $1.2 million was at the same time relatively spur of the moment and years in the making.

The catalyst for the joint venture between Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Bridlewood Farm, and Robert LaPenta was a passing conversation between barns prior to the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale, where Eclipse president Aron Wellman asked Bridlewood general manager George Isaacs if he’d seen the buzzed-about Tapit colt in the Denali Stud consignment.

The colt, out of the Grade 1-winning Successful Appeal mare Appealing Zophie, was a blue-chip prospect for Wellman but probably well outside of his budget. To land the horse, he would have to round up some partners.

“Once the physical variables were in place, and we loved the horse’s physical, then we turned to the pedigree, and, of course, he’s a son of Tapit, which requires no introduction,” Wellman said. “Then you consider the fact that he’s out of a Grade 1-winning mare – you’re getting into a stratosphere where you know if the vet agrees and passes the horse, you’re going to have to be prepared to spend significant funds to be able to even have a fighting chance to land the horse.”

Isaacs was looking for well-bred fillies to eventually add to the fledgling broodmare band of new Bridlewood Farm owner John Malone, but after laying eyes on the colt and discussing it with Malone, Isaacs joined the cause.

Pop-up partnerships are increasingly common at major sales, and the two entities had teamed up to buy horses in the past. LaPenta’s representatives were also on the colt and soon joined in the pursuit.

It was the first time the three groups had teamed up to go after a horse, but the trio had long-running ties between them.

Eclipse has been a longtime client of Jonathan Thomas, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher who now heads up Bridlewood’s Ocala, Fla.-based training division and works with Eclipse’s young horses.

“We liked Jonathan and wanted to help him get started in that venture, so we sent some horses to him and really enjoyed the relationship,” Wellman said. “He fits that mold of young, hungry talent that Eclipse is looking to align ourselves with.”

Wellman was tied to LaPenta through the latter’s racing manager, John Panagot, who worked for trainer Graham Motion during Animal Kingdom’s 2011 Kentucky Derby campaign. At the time, Wellman was vice president of ownership group Team Valor International, giving them experience together on the classic stage.

Completing the connections, Bridlewood teamed with LaPenta’s Whitehorse Stable for the first time to buy a pair of horses during the juvenile sale season prior to their purchase of Tapwrit.

In a group comprising horsemen of varying ages but deep experience in the industry, the relative newcomer to the group was Malone, the media-company chairman who bought Bridlewood Farm just two years prior to Tapwrit’s day in the ring, and his wife, Leslie.

Despite his status as the team’s freshman, John Malone served as the group’s steadying presence when the time came to decide on a valuation for Tapwrit.

“I don’t know if it was prophetic or what, but Mr. Malone, as the horse was coming to the ring, we’re all sitting around one another, and he said to George Isaacs and myself, ‘You know, I think we ought to be prepared to go to $1.2 million if you guys feel so strongly about this colt,’ ” Wellman said. “With his blessing, we all felt confident in the play, or as confident as you can feel when you’re getting up into those figures.”

Tapwrit is Malone’s first Derby horse, but Isaacs said the spotlight that comes with a classic runner was never part of the mission statement for the farm’s owner, whose desire is to create a high-quality breeding operation instead of a high-profile racing stable. Malone’s desire to maintain his space is befitting of North America’s largest private landowner.

“Him and I were talking about the racing side of things,” Isaacs said, “and he said, ‘You know, Leslie and I are very private people. We don’t like crowds, we don’t like cocktail parties, we don’t like the fuss of that sort of thing. This racing stuff really doesn’t interest me all that much, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. You can go and collect the hardware and wave to us from the winner’s circle.’ ”

However, the irresistible lure of the Derby has caused Malone to briefly abandon that stance.

“He did promise me when Tapwrit won the [Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park as a juvenile] and won the Tampa Bay Derby, he told me early on, ‘If we ever get a Kentucky Derby horse, I’ll go to the Derby,’ ” Isaacs said. “He’s having to live up to his promise, and he and Leslie are attending the Kentucky Derby.”

With less than two weeks before the Derby, the three entities teamed up once again to buy an $850,000 Medaglia d’Oro colt out of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. spring sale of 2-year-olds in training, this time adding a fourth partner in Twin Creeks Racing. A powerful alliance on the racetrack and in the auction ring has emerged, and continues to grow, from a barn-to-barn chat at Saratoga.