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This story was published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

Since his dramatic run from far back in the 10-furlong Kentucky Derby to grab second behind classic winner Super Saver, the Pulpit colt Ice Box has been considered a super play for the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes.

That daring manner of charging home from far back had helped the colt claim his first stakes victory in the G1 Florida Derby in March, and clearly Ice Box has progressed well and showed improved form in the Derby. But likewise, his Florida Derby competitor First Dude also has improved from fifth in the race at Gulfstream Park to finish a game second behind Lookin at Lucky in the Preakness Stakes.

That suggests the form of the Florida Derby was not so meaningless as some handicappers suggested at the time. Many believed that then-Derby favorite Eskendereya was first and the rest nowhere.

The fates have decreed otherwise.

And now Ice Box and his competitor First Dude are expected to be the two favorites for the Belmont Stakes.

Just from his pedigree, this is not such a leap for Ice Box, whose first two dams are by classic winners and whose third dam produced one.

His sire, Pulpit, is the most successful stallion son of Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, who scratched out of the Kentucky Derby due to a foot problem and won the Belmont Stakes five weeks later during his championship campaign.

Pulpit himself was a classic contender in 1997 when the bay colt won the Fountain of Youth and Blue Grass and was second in the Florida Derby. The horse’s only other loss was in the Kentucky Derby, when Pulpit ran fourth, was later found to have an injury, and never raced again.

Put to stud at his birthplace, Claiborne Farm, Pulpit has been A.P. Indy’s most consistent son at stud and the one who has infused the most speed and precocity into the line of classic horses descending through Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and classic winner A.P. Indy. Pulpit’s sons, such as Tapit, Sky Mesa, and Corinthian are also proving highly popular young sires.

In addition to the classic quality of his sire Pulpit (and grandsire A.P. Indy), Ice Box is out of Spice Island, a graded stakes winner by Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat.

A talented and handsome chestnut, Tabasco Cat had one of the more dramatic personalities among the progeny of leading sire Storm Cat, and Tabasco Cat became his sire’s only American classic winner.

Sent to stud at Overbrook Farm alongside his famous sire, Tabasco Cat bred large books of mares with high credentials, including the dam of Spice Island, the Alysheba mare Crown of Sheba.

Although only a winner from her three starts, Crown of Sheba has done better as a producer, with Spice Island being the 18-year-old mare’s best performer to date.

Crown of Sheba’s dam was the Speak John mare Belle de Jour, also only a winner as a racehorse.

But Belle de Jour produced five stakes horses. Far and away the most important of them was Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck. A winner of 10 races from 15 starts and more than $4.2 million, Spend a Buck was a champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year in 1985.

A tearaway front runner with exceptional speed, Spend a Buck was the opposite of his relation Ice Box in racing style. Ice Box is a cold one when the races begin, and that is probably one reason the handsome chestnut colt was a maiden until his fourth start, which he won going two turns last year.

Ice Box was bred in Kentucky by Denlea Park Ltd., the breeding entity of Kurt Butenhoff, who claimed Ice Box’s dam for $40,000 from the racing stable of Watts Humphrey, raced Spice Island to graded stakes successes, and has made her the cornerstone of his breeding operation.

Based at Claiborne Farm, where Ice Box was conceived, foaled, and raised, Butenhoff has a boutique broodmare band and sells his yearlings annually.

Ice Box was another success for his breeder, bringing $125,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale from current owner Robert LaPenta. The good-looking colt was cataloged for the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale of 2-year-olds in training but didn’t go through the ring.

The colt reportedly didn’t like the Calder surface, and LaPenta chose to put Ice Box into his own racing stable.

The mare has a 2-year-old by Vindication who has been retained by Denlea Park, a yearling by Arch who sold last November for $75,000, and produced a foal by Eddington earlier this month.