What’s in a (Race) Name? Preaching the Power of Pulpit

Pulpit winning the 1997 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. (EQUI-PHOTO)

Historic Claiborne Farm in Kentucky has long been known for breeding and racing its own horses, and one of the best examples in the last 25 years has been Pulpit.

On the track, Pulpit showed signs of brilliance during a brief career. Trained by Frank Brothers, Pulpit debuted on Jan. 11, 1997 and ran his last race on May 3 of the same year, but during that four-month span he won four of six starts, including an easy triumph in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Even his defeats were strong performances; he ran second in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and fourth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, though he emerged from the latter race with a bone chip in his knee. An attempt to return him to the races was made, but a hoof bruise late in the year derailed a scheduled fall campaign and led to Pulpit’s retirement.

“Obviously, we are disappointed that Pulpit will not return to the races,” said Claiborne’s Dell Hancock in a report published in the Oct. 8, 1997 edition of Louisville’s The Courier-Journal. “But we are equally excited about his potential as a sire. Pulpit was a special racehorse, and we look forward to him joining our stallion roster.”

As a racehorse, Pulpit surely left people wondering “what might have been,” but the expectations for his stud career (his dam [mother] was Grade 1 winner Preach, by Mr. Prospector) proved fully warranted, since it was as a stallion that Pulpit truly made his mark.

His first foals hit the races in 2001, and before long horses like Sky Mesa (winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes) and Stroll (winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic) propelled Pulpit’s name into the spotlight.

Versatility was a hallmark of Pulpit’s progeny. They could win Grade 1 races sprinting on dirt, like when Pyro won the 2009 Forego Stakes; they could win Grade 1 races going long on turf, like when Rutherienne won the 2007 Del Mar Oaks, or Grade 1 races on synthetic tracks, like when Mi Sueno won the 2009 Darley Debutante Stakes. They could excel in Germany, where Govinda was a standout 3-year-old; in Japan, where Pit Fighter was a multiple stakes winner; in Canada, where Fifth Overture won the Grade 3 Seaway Stakes. Pulpit even sired major steeplechase winners — Sermon of Love was a Grade 1 winner and Orison won a Grade 2.

The list of stakes winners sired by Pulpit goes on and on, and though he passed away in 2012, his influence in pedigrees will continue for years to come.

Several of his sons have proven successful at stud, the first and foremost being Tapit, the leading sire in North American from 2014 through 2016. Another of Pulpit’s sons, Lucky Pulpit, achieved fame as the sire of 2014 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner and two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome.

This Saturday, Gulfstream Park will honor Pulpit’s legacy with the $75,000 Pulpit Stakes, a one-mile race for 2-year-olds that was won in 2016 by the future Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit, a grandson of Pulpit.

Several other upcoming races at Gulfstream are named for horses from the past, let’s take a look at a few of them …

Buffalo Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park

When Buffalo Man outsprinted six rivals to win the 2007 Spectacular Bid Stakes going three-quarters of a mile on dirt at Gulfstream Park, it would have been hard to guess that the colt would eventually wind up being best going a mile on grass. But that’s exactly what happened, and as a 4-year-old in 2008, Buffalo Man utilized his sprinting speed and impressive acceleration to outrun his rivals in both the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park and the Grade 3 Appleton Handicap at Gulfstream Park, eventually retiring with more than half a million dollars in earnings.

House Party Stakes at Gulfstream Park

The legendary Allen Jerkens won dozens of Grade 1 races during his Hall of Fame career, and one of those victories came courtesy of House Party. As a 3-year-old in 2003, she was among the best female sprinters in the country, winning five stakes races at three different tracks, including an eye-catching 3 ¼-length romp in the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park.

Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park

Smooth Air was bred in Florida and loved racing in his home state. From 2007 through 2009 he ran in Florida ten times and never finished out of the top three, with his biggest win coming in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in 2009. But Smooth Air’s trips to other states were also fruitful; while he could only finish 11th in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, he did win the Grade 2 Ohio Derby at Thistledown and ran one of the best races of his career when beaten just a half-length in the 2009 Grade 1 Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.

Wait a While Stakes at Gulfstream Park

The career of Wait a While can be roughly divided into two segments: “Before Turf” and “After Turf.” Trained by Todd Pletcher, Wait a While was a successful dirt runner early in her career, winning a couple of stakes races and finishing third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. But it was on turf that she truly excelled, winning an impressive nine graded stakes races from 2006 through 2008. She was particularly well-suited to 1 ¼-mile races, winning three Grade 1 races at that distance and posting impressive times of 1:59-and-change on each occasion.

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