Twenty years ago at Claiborne Farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky, a muscular bay colt who had been foaled earlier that year was bounding and prancing across the rolling pastures of a farm known around to the world to breeders and racing fans.
Now, that colt is known 'round the world as well. His name was Pulpit, and he was from the first crop by the 1992 Horse of the Year, A.P. Indy.
The colt also was the first foal of a highly regarded young mare by Mr. Prospector out of one of Claiborne's finest families, going back through major producers to Round Table's full sister Monarchy (by Princequillo). Their dam was the English-bred mare Knight's Daughter, whom A.B. “Bull” Hancock had imported to Kentucky in the 1950s.
Claiborne sold Round Table part-way through his juvenile season at the track, though retaining a quarter-interest in him as a stallion, and watched with pride as the iron-legged bay became the 1958 Horse of the Year and leading money earner. Hancock kept Monarchy, who won the Arlington Lassie, and bred some important stock from her.
She foaled a stakes winner by Bold Ruler named Title and another by Le Fabuleux named Fabled Monarch, but Monarchy's most important foal was the winning Nijinsky mare, State. She produced five stakes winners, including Region (Devil's Bag), Announce (Forty Niner), Double Feint (Spectacular Bid), and Narrate (Honest Pleasure).
State could have gotten a stakes winner by a burro, and she did considerably better with class racehorses like those above. Of her stakes winners, Narrate brings our story another step forward because she is the dam of Preach, a G1 winner of the Frizette Stakes at 2, when she also ran third in the Spinaway.
Perhaps it was the Nijinsky influence from her dam or perhaps it was just her, but Preach was what the English would call “full of character.” It was foolish to take her lightly, and she imparted some of that heat and indomitable attitude to her foals.
Of them all, Pulpit was the first and the best.
Unraced at 2, Pulpit came to hand readily at 3, rising through the ranks from maiden to graded stakes winner in Florida with a sharp score in the Fountain of Youth. Second to Captain Bodgit in the G1 Florida Derby, Pulpit shipped north with the migrating birds to race at Keeneland, and he gave Claiborne Farm a victory in the Blue Grass Stakes, which was his prep for the 1997 Kentucky Derby.
In the Kentucky Derby, Pulpit showed high courage and ability, leading at the half-mile and three-quarters and still battling head and head with Free House at the mile pole. At the wire, however, Pulpit finished fourth behind Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit, and Free House. That trio of racehorses each earned more than $1 million, but the Derby was Pulpit's last race. A knee fracture put the talented bay on the sidelines, then eventually sent him into retirement at Claiborne, where he spent the rest of his life.
As a sire, Pulpit outshone all his contemporaries, and he was the first indicator of the impact that A.P. Indy would come to have as a sire not just of racehorses but also of breeding stock. Pulpit sired G1 winner Essence of Dubai as a member of his freshman crop and never looked back.
From 75 stakes winners to date, Pulpit has 45 graded stakes winners, and as that latter figure suggests, quality and class are hallmarks of the Pulpit stock. They also have speed, and Pulpit's branch of the A.P. Indy line is notable for that important asset. From the sire's third crop came Tapit, an undefeated 2-year-old who progressed to win the G1 Wood Memorial at 3. As a sire, Tapit has been his sire's most notable contribution to the breed because Tapit is even better than Pulpit.
Other sire sons of Pulpit include Hopeful Stakes winner Sky Mesa, who has sired 33 stakes winners; the consistent value sire Stroll, a G1 winner; graded winner Sightseeing, who sired a Spinaway Stakes winner before his unfortunate death; and Lucky Pulpit, whose son California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness this year.
As a sire, Pulpit has contributed soundness and a high degree of competitiveness to the succeeding generation. From current statistics supplied by Equineline, Pulpit has 79 percent starters from foals and 56 percent winners. Both of those figures far exceed the pars for the breed, and Pulpit's average winning distance for his progeny is nearly a mile at 7.7 furlongs.
Statistics give black and white indications of what we lost when Pulpit died, but the horse has left us reminders of his excellence, including a top 3-year-old in the Phipps stable named Mr Speaker, who is Pulpit's leading runner of this crop.
In addition, Pulpit has 58 foals among the current 2-year-olds, but there are only 26 yearlings in the stallion's last crop. Of those, 11 are consigned as part of Book 1 at the Keeneland September sale.
From horses like Pulpit, hopes and dreams are made, and perhaps one of these last will set another story in motion that we will enjoy 20 years from now.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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