Tapit Doubles Down on Twin Spires

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Tapit | EquiSport Photos

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He doesn't need the publicity: as he approaches the evening of his career, his fee is $185,000 and, with his book as wisely controlled as ever, demand should always exceed supply. Nonetheless, there's something highly gratifying about the prospect of Tapit redressing one of the few gaps in a resume that otherwise qualifies him as unmistakably the most accomplished stallion in the land.

The horse himself, of course, would remain totally unwitting–just as he was, when his 20th birthday last Saturday was so aptly marked by two sons emphatically confirming their status as rivals for leadership of the Classic crop. Should either Greatest Honour or Essential Quality proceed to crown their sire's career with his first success in the GI Kentucky Derby, the world will appear no different to Tapit as the second sunrise of May reaches those palatial rafters in the Gainesway stallion barn. But a sense of completion, on his behalf, would be greatly deserved by the people behind him.

Principal among these is Antony Beck, owner of Gainesway, who took an inspired gamble on the pedigree underpinning Tapit's extrovert performance in the GIII Laurel Futurity at two, despite a sophomore campaign that proved fragmented and unconvincing.

Beck understood that since you can never predict which genetic strands will come through in a horse, your best shot is always a breadth of quality sufficient for it not to matter too much. Tapit's family had already produced a series of stallions: dam Tap Your Heels (Unbridled) was a sibling to Rubiano (Fappiano); second dam Ruby Slippers (Nijinsky II), a half-sister to Glitterman; and third dam Moon Glitter (In Reality), a full-sister to Relaunch. Glitterman was by a stallion as forgettable as Dewan, so clearly something was functioning pretty potently along this bottom line.

Tapit's own sire Pulpit, moreover, was by the son of one broodmare of historic stature (Weekend Surprise) out of the daughter of another (Narrate); while his damsire Unbridled, for his part, doubles up the great Aspidistra (who delivered not only his third dam, but also Fappiano's damsire Dr. Fager). And Unbridled himself had a distinguished brother in Cahill Road. There was, in other words, repeat production everywhere you looked.

Unbridled had made a big impression on the young Beck, having the temerity to beat his father-in-law's champion sprinter Housebuster at seven furlongs after winning the marquee races over 10 (Derby/Breeders' Cup Classic) the previous year. And while soundness was never really part of the Unbridled brand, Tapit's next two dams were by sturdy influences in Nijinsky (also sire of Pulpit's third dam) and In Reality (who recurs as sire of Unbridled's second dam).

Sure enough, while Tapit often gets horses of high mettle, they tend to be credited with a compensatory robustness, founded in fluidity of action plus exceptional cardiovascular capacity. Together, these physical attributes sustain a conspicuous will to win in many a Tapit. No doubt other sires impart a lot of “try” to their stock, but few will support it with matching levels of “can.”

Mr. Prospector | Dell Hancock

The first thing many people will see in the emergence of Greatest Honour and Essential Quality is an extra knot of Mr. Prospector. Already pegged down top-and-bottom behind Tapit, as damsire of Pulpit and grandsire of Unbridled, Mr. Prospector puts a grandson behind the dams of both these colts: Essential Quality is out of an Elusive Quality mare, and Greatest Honour out of a daughter of Street Cry (Ire).

Essential Quality actually brings Mr. Prospector back in yet again, his third dam being by Fappiano (who duly doubles up his role as grandsire of Tap Your Heels). In fact, the champion juvenile has pretty eye-watering levels of inbreeding overall, with triple doses of Northern Dancer and Secretariat and, most notably, In Reality. We've already noted how Tap Your Heels is inbred to In Reality, and here he is again as sire of Essential Quality's fourth dam, GI Delaware H. winner Basie.

Greatest Honour has a far less tangled page, and one that will delight the purist with second and fourth dams both Broodmares of the Year, and a Kentucky Oaks winner in between. Presumably Mr. Adam's desk has long disappeared under offers for breeding rights in his flamboyant homebred. Because it sure helps if you can just look at a pedigree and say with a shrug: “Well, what else do you suppose a horse bred like this could be?”

Greatest Honour | Coglianese

For the seeding of this family has been consistent with its quality. And that, as we like to say, means that there isn't a single creaking floorboard on the stage. In terms of that breadth of genetic cover, you couldn't ask for two better representatives of the Mr. P. and Northern Dancer lines to shore up the excellence of the family. Damsire Street Cry brings a ton of European turf quality: his sister produced a great sire in Shamardal; their dam is an Irish Oaks-winning daughter of an Epsom Derby winner; and sire Machiavellian is out of the foundation Niarchos mare Coup de Folie (Halo).

Coup de Folie was inbred 3×3 to that ultimate linchpin, Almahmoud, but not through her breed-shaping grandson Northern Dancer: instead it falls to Greatest Honour's second dam, the famous Better Than Honour, to bring into play that specialist broodmare influence of the Northern Dancer line, Deputy Minister.

Better Than Honour, of course, produced consecutive winners of the Belmont S.–which Classic already bears a heavy imprint of Tapit, including now as a sire of sires following the success of Tiz the Law (Constitution). Tapit's three Belmont winners, in turn, strengthen the record of his grandsire A.P. Indy, who won the race himself and also sired one of Better Than Honour's winners, Rags to Riches.

There can only be one Kentucky Derby winner every year. Never mind that Tapit, despite combining two formidable Classic brands in A.P. Indy and Fappiano, has so far drawn a blank. His proven record with maturing sophomores round that punishing Belmont oval makes him an irreproachable complement to the families of both Greatest Honour and Essential Quality.

To their families, mark you; not merely to their dams' sire line. You can be sure that plenty of experts are busy discovering some priceless alchemy between Tapit and Mr. P., especially after a Distorted Humor mare gave us Constitution. But we'll leave such people to their simple lives; and happy lives, too, with the nice fees they get from their clients. The rest of us must persevere through the genetic treacle with no better a compass (assuming due attention is always given first to physical matching) than the overall balance and depth of quality in a pedigree.

It should go without saying that both these colts have a terribly rich seedbed for fertilisation.

Essential Quality's granddam is Contrive (Storm Cat) who, though unraced, cost Sheikh Mohammed $3 million as a 7-year-old in 2005–just 12 months after changing hands for $140,000. The difference, in the meantime, was made by her first foal Folklore (Tiznow), who had just sealed the divisional championship previously in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Essential Quality | Coady

Admittedly, the Sheikh's investment has taken time to pay dividends, Contrive mustering only a couple of foals equal to a Grade III placing. One of them is Delightful Quality, who started out with three duds: two unraced foals by Bernardini and Tiznow, and a castrated son of Tapit who finished 10th of 11 on his only start. Fortunately, the Sheikh's team had doubled down on his sire and sent Delightful Quality back to Gainesway in 2017 for the covering that produced Essential Quality.

Let's not forget that Contrive had cost $825,000 as a yearling. She was out of a dual graded stakes winner; second dam Basie, as already noted, was a Grade I winner; and the line extends back to La Troienne via War Admiral's daughter Striking, the 1965 Broodmare of the Year and a sister to Hall of Famer Busher. Mineshaft, Private Account and Woodman all share ancestry through Striking; while Smarty Jones does so via Basie's dam. Presumably it was the recent example of Smarty Jones, who had a slop-splattered Tapit back in midfield in his Derby, that governed the choice of Elusive Quality for Contrive when she came up with Delightful Quality.

One way or another, anyhow, this family is right now back in business. Even without Essential Quality, the outstanding Japanese sophomore of 2020, Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), is out of Folklore's daughter Rhodochrosite (by Unbridled's Song); while the hardy millionaire Come Dancing (Malibu Moon) is a granddaughter of Contrive's half-sister by Kris S.

Striking and Busher, incidentally, respectively delivered one apiece of the four grandparents of My Charmer, the dam of Tapit's great-grandsire Seattle Slew. And their brother Mr. Busher happens to be the sire of Stolen Hour, fifth dam of Greatest Honour.

Stolen Hour's daughter Best in Show claims our attention here through her Kentucky Oaks-winning daughter by Blushing Groom (Fr), Blush With Pride, who in turn produced Better Than Honour. But this whole argument about breadth of genetic coverage applies pretty loudly to this dynasty.

Other daughters of Best in Show include Sex Appeal, who links the pedigrees of many good horses (latterly Almond Eye (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) and is a particular nexus of fine or better broodmare sires: she's by one herself, in Buckpasser, and duly produced two others in El Gran Senor and Try My Best. Other daughters of Best in Show (these all by Sir Ivor) include Minnie Hauk, who gave the Niarchos family its foundation mare Aviance; plus the third dams of the important Australian stallion Redoute's Choice (Aus) and, more recently, Siskin (First Defence), a Classic winner in Ireland last year.

Tapit | Gainesway

Depth and breadth, and copper-bottomed broodmare influences. That's how these lines keep thriving. No family tree stands or falls on a single branch. But sure, if you think Greatest Honour and Essential Quality are all about Tapit nicking with Mr. Prospector-line mares, you work away.

Siskin, incidentally, is closely related to champion Close Hatches (First Defence), whose son Tacitus continues to exasperate in his failure to add to his sire's haul of Grade I winners. For now, then, Tapit must settle for 27, four more than nearest active competitor War Front. Tapit's 87 graded stakes winners, meanwhile, put him a street clear of Distorted Humor on 65. As a ratio of named foals, his black-type winners/performers are touching 10 and 20%, respectively; and he's basically producing a Grade I winner/six graded stakes performers from every 50. In terms of earnings per named foal, only Speightstown breaks six figures at $103,427; Tapit is rolling along at $115,491.

So, no, he doesn't need the publicity–even if he's no longer on a tariff quite as giddy as $300,000. But while it's always nice to celebrate stallions that only rarely make the headlines, nor should Tapit be taken for granted. He is a colossus of the modern breed and, the way these two boys are shaping, this looks like the year when he'll be reaching the very top of the heap.

For with lifetime earnings now $165.5 million, Tapit is fast closing down the late Giant's Causeway, who's naturally running low on ammunition on $171.2 million. Throw in any prize money meanwhile banked by other stock, not to mention a couple of valuable rehearsals en route, and it's perfectly possible that one of these star sophomores will take their sire to the pinnacle in the Derby itself. And if that's what destiny has in mind for Tapit, then perhaps Greatest Honour will turn out to have been named with particular prescience.

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