Living in a Tapit world’

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Neophyte racing fans sipping homemade mint juleps at Kentucky Derby parties from coast to coast will notice something rather unique about the field for this year’s race with the presence of four gray entrants. The slightly more seasoned spectators will no doubt notice that three of the four share the same sire, who just so happens to be the leading sire of the last two years and the current leader in 2016. The even more savvy already know and are not surprised that Tapit is the sire.

“We’re living in a Tapit world around here; certainly from where we sit right here and right now,” said Michael Hernon, the air conditioner buzzing in his office at Antony Beck’s Gainesway on a warm afternoon in Lexington eight days before the Kentucky Derby.

Tapit, who commands the most expensive stud fee in North America at $300,000, will be represented in this year’s Derby by Creator, Mohaymen and Lani. He’s one of three stallions with multiple entries, along with Uncle Mo (three, plus one on the also-eligible list) and Giant’s Causeway (two).

A legitimate case can be made for each of the Tapit colts in the Derby.

Creator exits a monstrous rallying victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby last time out for trainer Steve Asmussen, who found out in April that he would be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame later this summer.

Mohaymen was at the top of many Kentucky Derby top contender lists after winning his first five starts before a dull fourth on a surface he didn’t seem to relish in the Florida Derby.

The Japan-based Lani, easily the X factor in this year’s race, overcame a very awkward start en route to his rallying victory in the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in late March in Dubai.

“They’re all really good horses,” said Hernon, Gainesway’s longtime director of sales.

Tapit, who will be bred to 135 mares this year, is nearly white now at the age of 15. He doesn’t show any sign of age and continues to relish his job in the breeding shed, Hernon said.

During an impromptu showing near the breeding shed last week Tapit is cool as can be despite the warm weather.

“Defining Tapit in one sentence it would be, for me, he gives this great competitiveness to his progeny,” Hernon said. “They’re real fighters, competitors. He’s all business in the breeding shed. You just looked at him, you saw how he was. He’s perfectly fine to deal with and in the breeding shed it’s game on; you’ve got to be on your toes because he is.

“He’s really an exceptional horse and we all thought he had potential to do very well. He’s clearly exceeded expectations. He’s now arguably in the leagues with horses in recent memory like Storm Cat, Mr. Prospector, Danzig, that level of a stallion. And he’s still just a teenager. He’s only 15, so we think there’s still quite a few good years left in him.”

Tapit led North America’s general sire list in 2014 and 2015 and is on top heading into the weekend. He’s already sired a U.S. classic winner in 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist along with champions Untapable, Stardom Bound and Hansen.

A win Saturday by Creator, Lani or Mohaymen would be his first in the Kentucky Derby, a race Tapit himself finished ninth in back in 2004.

Hernon and the team at Gainesway obviously feel a connection to the trio and one of the three in particular carries a special tie.

“Creater, there’s a little bit of a personal success here for Gainesway and for me personally,” Hernon said. “We have been selling for a number of years for Greg Goodman, who bred the horse. Greg is a friend of Antony’s, a good sportsman. He divides his horses between Lane’s End and Gainesway.”

The horses are divided between the two powerhouse operations during a draft-style event that Goodman hosts every year.

“It always makes for a competitive evening,” Hernon said. “He puts on a great dinner and a pre-dinner reception for Gainesway and Antony and Bill Farish and his guys from Lane’s End. Then we go through the process of picking horses. That’s how it’s been and we look forward to hopefully continuing that with Greg.”

Gainesway selected first in the draft and picked Creator, a colt out of the Peruvian-bred Privately Held mare Morena. He later sold to Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm for $440,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

“We were especially partial to that horse,” Hernon said. “I was the most keen on him. He was our No. 1 pick, he’s won a Grade 1 and now he’s in the Derby.”

Gainesway’s connection to Lani will also continue for at least the near future. Bred in Kentucky by his owner Yoko Maeda’s North Hills Co. Ltd., Lani is out of the Japanese-bred Sunday Silence mare Heavenly Romance. She was recently bred back to Tapit after being bred to Distorted Humor (twice) and Awesome Again the last three years.

“It’s great that Lani is here, a very sporting decision to come,” Hernon said. “Bloodstock is an international commodity. The Japanese blood is really top class, and their training, raising of horses, and their level of management is really come to a top level. They can compete with all countries of the world at this stage. They’re a big part of the international scene. We’re glad they’re here, welcome them and wish them the best with Lani.”

Mohaymen was bred and sold by the late Eamon Cleary’s Clearsky Farm for $2.2 million, one of several offspring of Tapit to command top dollar in the sales ring.

“Tapit just continues of late to keep setting record, whether on the racetrack or in the sale ring,” Hernon said. “Three years ago we had a record-priced weanling, a filly, at $3 million. Last September Gaineseway bred, raised and sold the sale topper at Keeneland $2.1 million the filly from the family of great mare Winning Colors and her daughter Silver Colors. A Tapit colt topped the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale, $1.8 million.

“Then we have Mohaymen, talk about sales acceptance. Rick Nichols bought him for Shadwell.”

The three Tapit colts in this year’s Derby share similar gray coloring but are different physically.

Lani is a “big, rangy horse, 16 3,” while Creator is a “good sized horse, not as tall, probably 16 1 and a half.”

Mohaymen is probably the closest to resembling Tapit, a son of Pulpit who started his stud career at Gainesway for the now bargain price of $15,000.

“Mohaymen is real handy horse, very similar to this horse I would say,” Hernon said as he watched Tapit take it all in, the scent of fresh cut grass in the air as a lawnmower buzzed in the distance. “He’s probably 15 3 and will probably mature out at 16. There’s a real resemblance between this horse and Mohaymen.”