'At some point you have to take a step back and say, 'Holy cow!''
Michele MacDonald on sire sensation Tapit and his star son Essential Quality
Even while he snoozes through the afternoon hours in the deep bedding and cool shade of his stall at Gainesway Farm, 20-year-old Tapit just keeps making more history as North America’s incomparable sire leader in an impressive range of categories.
As his son Essential Quality bravely fought off Hot Rod Charlie to become Tapit’s record fourth victor in the Belmont Stakes, the stallion reached yet another pinnacle in a career which, while slowing in terms of numbers of mares he covers, still promises many more highlights ahead.
“He’s just legendary, and this is another benchmark for Tapit,” reflects Gainesway’s Sean Tugel after the Belmont feat in which Tapit matched the mark previously achieved only by mid-1800s era stallion Lexington during a time when the race usually averaged fewer runners.
“The accolades are still fresh and sinking in, but at some point you have to take a step back and say, ‘Holy cow! Can you believe Tapit accomplished all that?’ It’s just special to be around a horse of this stature."
While most stallions find themselves at a plateau or in descent if they reach Tapit’s age, the snowy grey can claim his best-ever son in the form of Essential Quality, Godolphin’s homebred 2020 champion juvenile male whose steely will to win matches his dappled coat colour.
While Tapit has seven other champions and a total of 27 Grade 1 winners to his credit – with the latter leading all his active American stallion peers – Essential Quality is his first champion who also is a Classic victor.
Essential Quality also boasts an internationally sparkling pedigree, with his dam, the multiple stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality a half-sister to champion filly Folklore, who herself is the granddam of 2020 Japanese Triple Crown winner Contrail.
Tugel observes that, with those credentials, Essential Quality now has to be considered “one of the most exciting stallion prospects in a long time, so congratulations to Godolphin. They’ve been a longtime supporter of Tapit and it’s great to see it pay off.”
Godolphin’s American branch at Jonabell Farm in Lexington is obviously looking forward to eventually standing Essential Quality, but stallion sales manager Darren Fox said there are no current plans as to whether his stud career might begin in 2022 or later and he emphasised that there is no rush.
“I think if you asked anyone in our organisation, it would be too early to hazard a guess,” says Fox, noting that Godolphin is in the enviable position of also having four-year-old Grade 1-winning stars Maxfield and Mystic Guide on the horizon as future stallions.
“It’s really exciting to have some aces up your sleeve like that, but the one thing I will say is that we can certainly be patient. Whenever it’s time, whenever it makes sense [for Essential Quality to be retired], we’ll be here happily waiting, but it won’t be a case of the tail wagging the dog."
There is even more for Sheikh Mohammed’s team to anticipate as Essential Quality’s dam is currently back in foal to Tapit. The 12-year-old mare is just one of many top producers and/or runners to have visited the stallion in what has been a highly productive year in the Gainesway breeding shed.
“He’s a very healthy horse – and still a very tough horse; he’s still the boss,” says Tugel, referring to Tapit’s well-known, strong-willed temperament that he tends to pass along to his offspring. “He’s bred a very good book of mares this year.”
Among other mares Tugel confirms to be in foal are Justwhistledixie, dam of Grade 1 winner and sire New Year’s Day as well as multiple graded winner Mohaymen, Shadwell’s son of Tapit who was a $2.2 million yearling and recently registered his first winner as a sire; Lady Pewitt, the Gainesway-owned dam of champion filly Jaywalk who also has a 2021 colt by Tapit; and multiple Grade 2 winner Cambodia, a daughter of War Front.
Top commercial breeder Jane Lyon of Summer Wind Farm reported that she has three Grade 1-producing mares now in foal to Tapit: Littleprincessemma, dam of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Tapit’s Grade 1-winning daughter Chasing Yesterday; Unenchantedevening, dam of Grade 1 winner Moonshine Memories; and India, dam of multiple Japanese Grade 1 winner Mozu Ascot.
By the time the nearly concluded breeding season ends, Tapit will have covered 105 to 110 mares, estimates Tugel, at a fee of $185,000, second highest on the continent to Into Mischief’s $225,000.
“As he’s gotten older we've had to manage his book so he can be as good as he can be," says Tugel. "We start by looking to breed him to about 95 to 100 mares, and as the season goes on, if he’s handling them well, we can add a few late-foaling mares or mares coming off the racetrack.
“This season has gone very well. His fertility has been exceptional and he’s got over 85 mares in foal already. He’s had a very good year."
As Gainesway advertises, Tapit – in addition to his status as leading active American sire of Grade 1 winners – claims more total graded winners at 89, more million-dollar or more yearlings at 31 and more progeny earnings, with a current total exceeding $170.9m, than any active rival.
The stallion led the North American general sire list for three consecutive years, from 2014, a feat not accomplished by any sire other than Danzig since Bold Ruler’s dominance in the 1960s.
Even though many of his best offspring by pedigree were not offered or were not sold at auction last year as the Covid pandemic skewed markets, Tapit sired the toppers of both Book 1 sessions of Keeneland’s 2020 September Yearling Sale.
His $2m colt out of Grade 1 winner Tara’s Tango, now named Capensis, and $1.25m filly out of Grade 1 winner Embellish The Lace, named Tap The Faith, set the continental pace while sold, respectively, to a partnership including Gainesway and to Claiborne Farm, agent.
Tapit’s current crop of yearlings also features many potential stars of auction ring and track, including colts out of Drumette, dam of champion Monomoy Girl, and Grade 1 winners Molly Morgan, Off The Tracks and Verve’s Tale.
The stallion’s yearling fillies are from dams including Juddmonte’s champion Close Hatches, who has already produced multiple graded winner and $3.74m earner Tacitus to his cover; Grade 1 winner Salty; champion Songbird, a $9.5m purchase by Mandy Pope; and Pope’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle, whose Tapit daughter Unique Bella earned two championships.
Lyon, who along with Pope has been a strong supporter of Tapit, has five yearling colts by the sire on her farm in a dazzling group featuring half-brothers to Grade 1 winners Curalina and Constellation, as well as a full-brother to impressive debut winner Flightline, who was a $1m Saratoga yearling.
She also prizes her yearling full-sister to Chasing Yesterday and half-sibling to American Pharoah, a grey named Sunrise Service that she decided to retain when the filly was born.
Tapit, by A.P. Indy’s son Pulpit and out of the Unbridled mare Tap Your Heels, was a $625,000 sale yearling who raced for Winchell Thoroughbreds and won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes at three before entering stud with a modest initial fee of $12,500.
His first crop included champion juvenile filly Stardom Bound and Grade 1 winners Careless Jewel, Laragh and Testa Matta, who raced in Japan, and the rest of his record is still unfolding history.
Before Essential Quality’s rise, Tapit’s leading American sons were 2011 champion juvenile Hansen, now at stud in South Korea; Godolphin’s multiple Grade 1 winner and young sire Frosted; and Belmont winners Tonalist (2014), now at stud at Lane’s End, Creator (2016), standing in Japan, and Tapwrit (2017), another Gainesway resident whose first foals are yearlings.
Overall, Tapit has to date sired 142 black-type winners and 136 black type-placed runners. However, just as significant are his percentages, which truly reveal how special he is as a sire.
Not including this year’s crop of two-year-olds, from which he has only one starter so far, Tapit has 9.9 per cent black-type winners from his foals of racing age, with 83 per cent of his offspring making at least one start and 62 per cent notching wins. His average earnings per starter is $143,636.
The stallion has achieved all that he has without large books of mares. From his first 15 crops spanning 2006 through 2020, his average number of foals born each year has been 105, and The Jockey Club records indicate he has 77 two-year-olds and 71 yearlings.
As such a superstar sire is due, Gainesway monitors Tapit around the clock, and his routine is kept simple.
Typically, he is turned out in the mornings, following an early covering session during breeding season, and then brought in for lunch and relaxation in his stall the rest of the day and night, with staff limiting his time in sunlight to help protect him from melanoma, which grey horses tend to be prone to develop.
While his days may be quiet, Tapit continues to make an enduring mark on the sport, with his daughters also poised to contribute an “explosive” impact with their foals in the years to come, Tugel predicts.
Notably, one of the world’s brightest stars in competition, Japan’s Gran Alegria, a five-time Grade 1 winner, and earner of more than $8.28m, by Deep Impact, is out of the Tapit mare Tapitsfly, who was a multiple Grade 1-winning turf miler.
A unique source of strong conformation and even stronger equine willpower, Tapit stands alone on the American breeding landscape as Essential Quality seeks more prizes, such as the prestigious Travers Stakes, and his 2021 yearlings prepare for market.
Tugel says: “When you take a step back from him and then you look at other great stallions, you realise that he has a beautiful hind leg on him and he has great balance. Balance equates to soundness, soundness equates to athleticism, and when you pass that feature on, it overcomes a lot of other things.
“That balance, that bone, and a desire to win, the X-factor – the heart – Tapit gives you all that, and that’s what separates him from everybody else.”
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