09/18/2015 2:54PM

Keeneland September: Pope’s high-profile broodmare band debuts yearlings

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Keeneland Photo
A War Front filly out of Mandy Pope's mare Betterbetterbetter sold for $1.45 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Mandy Pope has become one of the North American Thoroughbred auction scene’s most recognizable figures in recent years while building a broodmare band full of big names and big price tags.

The road to recouping on that significant investment began in Book 1 of the Keeneland September yearling sale, when the first foals from several of Pope’s high-dollar broodmare purchases went through the sales ring. Some were out of veteran broodmares foaling for the first time under the banner of Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm, while others were highly anticipated debut foals by younger mares.

Among them were yearlings out of the $4.2 million 2012 Keeneland November purchase and 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, the $5.2 million 2013 Fasig-Tipton November sale-topper Betterbetterbetter, the $1 million 2013 FTK November purchase Speed Succeeds, and the $850,000 2013 FTK November purchase Goldena Podkove.

“It’s a dream,” Pope said. “This is harder to do than spending the money to buy one. To actually sell one that you raised, it’s like a fantasy. It’s surreal right now that I actually have done this, with the help of a lot of people. It’s not me by any means. It’s a joint effort from a lot of people.”

Pope’s Citra, Fla.-based Whisper Hill Farm sent six yearlings through the ring during the premier auction’s select sessions, with five selling for a total of $2,315,000. The group produced returns early as a War Front filly out of the Irish Group 3-placed Galileo mare Betterbetterbetter was purchased by Shadwell Estate Co. for $1.45 million. The colt was the first session’s most-expensive yearling.

“That was very encouraging and great for my crew at the farm to see all their hard work do well,” Pope said following the transaction. “It’s the first time I’ve ever sold a horse for that much money, so it’s exciting for everybody.”

While the level of buying and selling is still a fairly new endeavor for Pope, she is no stranger to selling foals at auction. Whisper Hill Farm bred multiple Grade 1 winner Tizway, who brought $140,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September sale, as well as Grade 1-placed Sam P., who brought $200,000 as a yearling in 2005.

Pope’s broodmares are boarded and foaled at Wayne and Cathy Sweezey’s Timber Town Stables in Lexington, Ky., then the foals are sent to Whisper Hill until returning to Timber Town for sales prep and consignment, if necessary. Wayne Sweezey said he travels to Florida on a monthly basis with farrier Bobby Langley to check up on the young horses.

“It’s coming full circle,” Sweezey said. “To see those horses come off the racetrack and to be able to manage them, that’s a real compliment to what Cathy and I have done all our lives raising horses – just to have Mandy’s trust and have those horses come to us, get them in foal, and gestate them.”

The only blemish on this year’s sale sheet was a Distorted Humor colt out of Plum Pretty who came into the sale with lofty expectations but finished under his reserve on a final bid of $725,000. The colt arrived late to the sale grounds after being hampered by a foot bruise, which may have affected his stock with buyers.

“Of course, I’m a little bit disappointed not to sell Plum Pretty’s colt, but I think he’s a gorgeous animal, so I’m fine to keep him,” Pope said.

Sweezey suggested that the buyback could end up being a best-case scenario for the colt, who will return to the group at Whisper Hill that raised him and will be able to best work around his issues.

Plum Pretty’s colt will be joined by the probable Keeneland September sale-topper, a Tapit colt out of the Mr. Greeley mare Silver Colors whom Pope secured for $2.1 million after a prolonged bidding battle against the team of Kaleem Shah and Bob Baffert.

Pope bought the colt’s full sister, Tapping Colors, for $700,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale. Their second dam is Winning Colors, the Kentucky Derby winner and champion 3-year-old filly of 1988.

“I thought he was one of the nicest colts in the sale, and being by Tapit moved him up,” Pope said. “He has a gorgeous stride on him, lovely hip and shoulder, great attitude.”

Horses set to enter Pope’s racing program from the sales return to Whisper Hill for turnout and to be broken, then are sent to GoldMark Farm in Ocala, Fla., to complete their training before going to the racetrack.

Pope said her philosophy toward getting a horse to the races was based on the individual, not the sale price.

“They’re in charge,” she said. “They tell us when they’re ready to go to the track, so we leave it up to the horse.”

Another notable yearling set to join that group will be the first foal out of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, a Tapit filly. Pope purchased Havre de Grace for a record $10 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale.

“Mandy’s going to keep her,” Sweezey said. “It’s sad for me [as a consignor] she’s going to keep her and sad for Keeneland, but great for her because she is a magnificent filly, and hopefully she’ll run.

“Havre de Grace is the kind of mare that throws great horses every year,” he continued. “She had a War Front colt this year that’s very special, she had the Tapit, and she’s back in foal to Tapit now.”