By Christie DeBernardis
Littleprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman) may not have done much on the racetrack, but she has proven to be quite a blue hen in her broodmare career. All five of her foals to race are winners and four of them are graded stakes performers, topped by her second foal, Triple Crown winner and three-time champion American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile).
The mare affectionately known as “Emma” followed American Pharoah with his GISP full-sister American Cleopatra; a GSP full-brother named St. Patrick's Day; his Grade I-winning half-sister Chasing Yesterday (Tapit); and an unraced full-brother named Theprinceofthebes. Next in line is Emma's 3-year-old colt Triple Tap (Tapit), who looks to kick his career off on the right hoof in the second race at Santa Anita Saturday for owner/breeder Jane Lyon of Summer Wind Farm and Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert, who trained all of his aforementioned siblings.
“I'm a nervous wreck,” said Lyon. “I did not know Bob [Baffert] was going to run him this quickly. He had said not that long ago that he was taking his time and it would be another month or more. Then he sent me a text the other day that said he was going to crack down on him a bit, which was just before his last work [5f :59 flat (1/68) at Santa Anita Mar. 7] (XBTV video). From what I could see with his work, it looked like [jockey] Flavien [Prat] never touched him.”
Saturday's race is a seven-furlong event for 3-year-olds and up. Triple Tap drew the outside post in this five-horse affair with Prat in the irons.
“I would have preferred to run him six furlongs, but that is the only race that was available, so I think he will be up for it,” Baffert said. “He drew well and it is a short field. He should be ready to run. He still needs racing luck and needs to break well. We should find out a lot about him, but he should be up for the task.”
Triple Tap–who received that name because he shares his Feb. 27 birthday with both his dam and sire–is making what many would consider a belated debut being it is March of his 3-year-old season. Lyon is known for being exceptionally patient and cautious with her horses, tending to them as a loving mother in no hurry to have her children leave the nest. She took her time before sending him to both Eddie Woods and Baffert and gave him extra time when he incurred a minor setback.
“He is late [making it to the races] because he got a minor injury–some bone bruising and a pulled ligament–when he was with Eddie Woods,” Lyon said. “We brought him home and gave him all the time he needed. We very slowly got him back going and sent him down to Bob's team at Los Al [in November].”
It has been all systems go since Triple Tap arrived in Baffert's barn. The strapping chestnut has posted a steady string of works, breezing alongside the likes of GSW Medina Spirit (Protonico) and GSP Freedom Fighter (Violence), among others.
“I have been breezing him with some nice horses and he has been right there,” Baffert said. “He was working heads up with Medina Spirit before Medina ran [second in the GII San Felipe S.] the other day and was holding his own.”
Baffert conditioned Triple Tap's aforementioned siblings for all or part of their careers, including, most recently, his full-sister Chasing Yesterday, who became the first Grade I winner to carry the Summer Wind colors in the GI Starlet S.
When asked how Triple Tap compared to his illustrious siblings, Baffert said, “They are all different. I had Chasing Yesterday, who was nice, but he has more body. I have seen him since he was a baby and he has always been a beautiful horse.”
It was more than his handsome physique that convinced Lyon to keep Triple Tap. As a breeder, the Arkansas native typically keeps well-bred fillies to add to her broodmare band as opposed to colts. But she has been making an exception to that practice recently, starting with Triple Tap, who, in addition to being out of a Lyon's most prized mare, proved to be exceptional right from the start.
“He was very special from day one,” Lyon said. “I thought I would just take a chance with him. He has been a very, very special horse to me. I entertained selling half of him, so I could hang on to him. I had a lot of interest and several offers, but in the end I decided to just keep him myself. If he can run, I can entertain people wanting in on him then.”
The horsewoman continued, “There was a picture that came up on my Facebook just a couple of days ago after his work, it was a memory of Triple Tap as just a little foal. He was standing all by himself in a paddock and you can't see Emma anywhere. He was just standing there looking at the camera and it reminded me of why I kept him. He always had this aura about him and this confidence, like he knew he was somebody. So, I guess we are going to find out if he is.”
Lyon purchased Littleprincessemma for $2.1-million at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton November Sale. She was carrying a full-brother to American Pharoah, who had just been forced to miss the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile with a foot issue, but had already done enough to clinch the Eclipse award for top 2-year-old male.
The resulting foal was St. Patrick's Day, who is the only one of Emma's foals that Lyon has parted with since purchasing her, selling the colt privately to Coolmore. Next came Lyon's beloved Chasing Yesterday, who recently produced her first foal, a Curlin filly. She was followed by Theprinceofthebes, another full-brother to American Pharoah, who is now 4-years-old.
“I ended up keeping the full-brother to American Pharoah, kind of by default, because he crushed a growth plate in a front ankle,” Lyon said. “We hoped that he could make it [to the races] and he showed us a lot of promise [in his training], but he got another injury and we just brought him home, so he will be here. I keep hoping maybe somebody will want to breed to him.”
Following Triple Tap, Emma produced a pair of Tapit fillies, the 2-year-old Lasting Tribute and the yearling Sunrise Service. Both will remain with Lyon and Lasting Tribute is currently in Ocala, beginning her training with Woods. Emma is expecting a full-brother to Triple Tap in April.
“I have only bred Emma to Tapit since she produced Triple Tap because the foals have just been so beautiful, athletic and basically problem free,” Lyon said. “If in fact, Triple Tap can live up to even what his sister [Chasing Yesterday] did, I think that it would be very hard for me to go anywhere else with the mare. It seems to be a cross that–at least physically–is working with Emma.”
Lyon will be in attendance at Santa Anita Saturday to see for herself if Triple Tap can follow in his beloved sister's–or maybe even half-brother's–hoofprints. With those bloodlines and Baffert at the helm, anything is possible. Let's not forget, Justify did not make his debut until Feb. 18 of his sophomore season and Arrogate made his first racetrack appearance Apr. 17 of his 3-year-old year. As Lyon said, “There is always hope.”