Aron Wellman left the Denali Stud consignment at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale two years ago knowing he was in love. He just couldn't afford the wedding.
The object of his affection was a Tapit colt out of the grade 1-winning mare Appealing Zophie. Both sides of the pedigree screamed "Big Bucks" and Wellman, who runs Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners with Brian Spearman, knew he'd need help to reel in the yearling.
Eclipse has raced grade 1 winners such as Byrama, Capo Bastone , Curalina, Danza , and co-owned In Lingerie. Wellman had built up a relationship with Jonathan Thomas, a former assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher who went on to break and train young horses out of Bridlewood Farm in Florida. Wellman subsequently sent Thomas young Eclipse horses to work with, and got to know Bridlewood general manager George Isaacs and, eventually, John and Leslie Malone, who purchased the landmark farm a couple of years ago.
"I compared notes with the Bridlewood group and they loved the colt too, so guessing he would bring seven figures, we decided to combine forces," said Wellman. "Then we brought in Bob LaPenta, who also has horses at Bridlewood. I'd met Bob through his racing manager, John Panagot, who I'd met when I was working for Team Valor.
"We pegged the colt at $1.1 million, and then as we were walking into the auction, John Malone said we should be prepared to go to $1.2 million. He hit it right on the head; that was the number."
So the partnership went home with the colt, whom they named Tapwrit. Today that is a household name, as Tapwrit, bred by Len Riggio's My Meadowview, stormed home to easily win the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) March 11, inserting himself into the middle of a very cloudy Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) picture.
"We were thrilled to land him," said Wellman the morning after the Tampa Bay Derby. "Jonathan broke him and trained him early. He was quirky; he still is, but he has made a lot of progress. He was athletic and agile at the sale, and we had concerns because the mare, even though she was precocious, hadn't produced much. The price was going to be prohibitive for Eclipse; multiples of what we've ever paid before for a yearling. So this has been a real team effort and a wonderful partnership."
Tapwrit was disappointing on his debut last summer at Saratoga when he finished last of 10, but came on to win the Pulpit Stakes at 2. He was a good second to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) before his big score.
"Someone asked if I took a deep breath after the Tampa Bay Derby," said Wellman. "I took 1.2 million deep breaths.
"We think the longer, the better with him. He's won a pair of two-turn races and also a one-turn mile. Plus he's not a speed-crazy horse. He likes to be taken back early. We hope his top side gives him stamina from the A.P. Indy line and Appealing Zophie gets him that injection of speed. It looks like that's translating into a well-rounded individual."