December Member of the Month
After a banner year in 2014, no one could blame leading sire Tapit if he decided to, well, tap out. First, his three-year-old filly champion Untapable dominated her division, capping off the season with a 1 ¼ length tally in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). She’s a homebred for Ron Winchell’s Winchell Thoroughbreds, which also co-owned her sire during his racing career. Then, there were those record earnings of over $16 million in one year. But 14-year-old Tapit and Winchell are just getting started.
Tapit stands for $300,000 at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky. Winchell noted that the grade I-winning son of Pulpit has been, and continues to be, the gift that keeps on giving. “We always thought Tapit had extremely great talent as a racehorse and a great chance to be a significant sire,” Winchell mused. “But of course, what you think and reality are usually two worlds.”
But Tapit makes dreams come true. Last year alone, his highlights included Untapable, Winchell’s homebred multiple graded stakes winner Tapiture, and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) victor Tonalist, among others. Tapit already dominates the 2015 sire list with more than $2 million in earnings, headlined by grade I winner Constitution.
Like his champion stallion, Winchell, a Las Vegas resident, was bred for success. “The horses are something that my dad and I did together,” he recalled. His father, Verne, founded a successful doughnut franchise and bred numerous stakes horses, including grade I winner Olympio, before he passed away in 2002.
Verne Winchell’s most astute claim was Olympio’s dam, Carols Christmas. The Whitesburg mare proved to be a blue hen for the family operation. Her descendants include Untapable and the champion’s grade I-winning half-brother, Paddy O’Prado, as well as fellow Winchell-bred grade I winners Cuvee, Tapizar, and Pyro. Winchell Sr. treated his son like a partner in their Thoroughbred business, “so when the transition came…it was pretty easy to continue on. We just always tried to get better.”
Winchell’s motto is simple: “We’re committed to continued improvement.” He simply is “trying to raise really good racehorses and trying to keep the quality of our mares up and the quality of raising them.” Added Winchell, “Attention to detail is an important factor.” In that vein, he keeps an eye out at sales and among his homebreds for the next star.
The Keeneland September sale is a regular pit stop for the Winchell operation. He said, “I pick up several horses because you know, one year, [a future star] might come from a purchase,” but he doesn’t mind coming home empty-handed. “I always look at it like you’re trying to pull a needle out of a haystack, so if you don’t find the needle, that’s fine.” At sales, Winchell works with Dr. David Lambert to pick out standouts. Potential stars are also at home, where he and farm manager David Fiske carefully plan matings. “Another year, it might come from a homebred, you know, like Tapizar, who won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), or Untapable,” Winchell said.
Speaking of Untapable, Winchell still marvels at her season closer. “Obviously, with her record going into that race [the Distaff], we had very high expectations,” he said, while observing that “this [field] is the best of basically her generation and the older generation and that, in itself, is always difficult” to beat. He enthused, “It kind of capped off our year and really made the best year we’ve had in the business.” In the hopes of producing a successful sibling to Untapable, her dam, grade II winner Fun House, “has a permanent date with Tapit.”
Winchell does his best to keep his broodmare band slim. “I don’t like to have more than 25 mares,” he admitted. He also keeps about 25 horses per crop. Winchell estimates he owns about 125 total horses, including mares, stallions, weanlings, yearlings, and runners. The mares and foals reside at his Corinthia Farm in Lexington.
He knows that this year has a lot to live up to, commenting, “Well, I mean, obviously you always look forward to the next year, but that’s going to be a very difficult year to top.” Currently, Untapable and Tapiture, who placed in last year’s Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile, are working towards their four-year-old debuts with trainer Steve Asmussen.
He estimated that each horse has about three more works to go before racing again. Winchell added, “We’re kind of just letting it take its own course. When they’re ready to go, they’re ready to go.” His ultimate goal for these two star offspring of Tapit is the Breeders’ Cup. And if this year is anything like the last, we’ll be seeing big performances from both at the end of October at Keeneland.
Congratulations to Ron, TOBA's February member of the month!