A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers, and jockeys as they travel the Road to the 149th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve May 6 at Churchill Downs.
The final installment for this season features Mandy Pope, whose Whisper Hill Farm partnered with Antony Beck’s Gainesway Stable to own prime contender Tapit Trice. Pope purchased the gray or roan son of Tapit for $1.3 million at Keeneland’s 2021 September yearling sale. The colt was bred by Beck’s Gainesway Thoroughbreds.
Tapit Trice owns a 3-for-3 record this season, including stakes victories in the March 11 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and the April 8 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He is trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by Luis Saez.
Pope discussed her willingness to go beyond the $1 million she had budgeted for Tapit Trice, her insistence on quality in every aspect of her operation, and her Derby prospects during a question-and-answer session conducted on behalf of America’s Best Racing.
PEDULLA: I understand that you bought your first horse when you were in high school. What is it about horses that appeals to you?
POPE: As a child, I always loved horses. I started riding when I was 4 or 5. My most comfortable place to be in life is with a horse or on a horse.
PEDULLA: Is there something about the horse itself that fascinates you?
POPE: The fact that they are so big and so powerful yet they will allow us to basically control them and they actually aim to please for the most part. They all have their own personalities. Every one of them is different.
PEDULLA: How many horses do you have at Whisper Hill?
POPE: I have two farms in Ocala. At the main farm, I probably have about 30 yearlings and we have 56 retired horses and pony horses that stay out there.
PEDULLA: How many broodmares do you have?
POPE: At last count, 45.
PEDULLA: I know you have always been meticulous in your purchase of broodmares. Why are they such an important element in breeding horses?
POPE: I think quality gives them the ability to go on and be racehorses. Just like people, that’s an inherited trait. You are more likely to come out with a graded-stakes winner if the parents were graded stakes winners.
PEDULLA: You have a history of spending large amounts for quality. What is the philosophy that drives that?
POPE: Buy the best, breed the best and get the best.
PEDULLA: Has that paid off for you?
POPE: It is right now. It takes a long time. A mare only has one foal a year if they are good but they miss years. Right now, we are sitting here with also Charge It, who is a homebred. We also have a lot of fillies we kept from Havre de Grace and they are still not done yet.
PEDULLA: I understand you budgeted $1 million for Tapit Trice but then you went to $1.3 million. Why did you do that?
POPE: Part of it was that Antony Beck decided to stay in for a bit. That helped. We thought he was the best potential sales horse on the grounds at the time. We knew who the underbidders were and they buy some of the best horses also. It wasn’t just us. There were a few other people at that price.
PEDULLA: You are known to have an affinity for Tapit, who sired Tapit’s Trice. Why is that?
POPE: I think Tapit, with the A.P. Indy line in there, passes on his genetics for speed and for distance. His horses can run on the dirt and some on the turf. And the fillies are going on to be very good broodmares, which just shows you the continuation of the genetics.
PEDULLA: Tapit Trice did not debut until late in his 2-year-old season. Was that by design?
POPE: It was pretty much by design. I’m never in a hurry to get them out as 2-year-olds. That’s just part of my philosophy. I’d much prefer to have 3- and 4-year-olds. In my opinion, most 2-year-olds that run hard and win at 2 don’t go on. There are exceptions. Look at Forte.
PEDULLA: What did Tapit Trice you show you during his early training at Whisper Hill?
POPE: He was just easy to get along with and had a nice, easy stride to him and pretty much did everything you asked of him in a very mindful, respectful way.
PEDULLA: What can you say about the job Todd Pletcher has done with the horse?
POPE: He has also been patient with him, which he is with all of his horses, I think. He just doesn’t want to run them before they’re ready and he knew early on that he had something special. He guided us as to which races to run in. He’s been instrumental in the whole thing.
PEDULLA: Tapit Trice is typically slow leaving the starting gate. Do you view that as a tremendous disadvantage in a 20-horse field?
POPE: I’m sure it’s a disadvantage in a 20-horse field. It’s going to give him a bit to overcome.
PEDULLA: Is the distance in his favor?
POPE: Yes, the distance is definitely in his favor, which is why coming from behind a bit is what he does. He has the ability to take the extra distance to go around horses. If that’s how it plays out, that shouldn’t bother him.
PEDULLA: I know you very much want to win the Derby. Is the Belmont Stakes also in the back of your mind with this horse?
POPE: Of course, it is. But so are shorter races. This horse doesn’t have to go a mile and a half to be a good horse. I think that the mile and a quarter is going to be good for him. He can do the Preakness also. I’m not worried that it’s a [sixteenth of a mile] shorter. I don’t think he wants to be a sprinter, for sure. But he can get himself in a position where he’s competitive and not be tiring at the end of the race.
PEDULLA: What role has jockey Luis Saez played in the success of Tapit Trice?
POPE: He rides this horse great because he is slow out of the gate. He needs to be hustled, he needs to be ridden because he does tend to get a little bit lazy. Saez is an excellent rider for this horse.
PEDULLA: What is your gut feeling telling you about the Derby?
POPE: He’s doing very well. He’s riding on a high. We’re all riding on a high. We’re very hopeful but I am very much aware that anything can happen in a horse race. It will be what it will be and we just cross our fingers that it will be us on top at the end of the race.
PEDULLA: Mandy, what would it mean to you to win the Kentucky Derby?
POPE: Obviously, it’s the dream of a lifetime for everyone in this Thoroughbred business. It’s not the end all, either. But it’s certainly something everyone strives to have. I’d feel very blessed if we were to win.