01/10/2014 4:33PM

Timber Town houses elite mares

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Barbara D. Livingston
Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, with Cathy Sweezey, left, and 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, with T. Wayne Sweezey, are both expecting their first foals in 2014. The mares are boarded for owner Mandy Pope at the Sweezeys' Timber Town Stable near Lexington, Ky.

T. Wayne Sweezey and Mandy Pope first met in the 1980s, when he was managing Darby Dan Farm and she began selling horses through the operation.

“Mandy had a nice little band of broodmares, and I would have been happy to have those mares she had then,” Sweezey said. “And her goal was to get to Fasig-Tipton and sell a horse for $100,000.”

The scope of those goals has changed immensely in the ensuing years. Pope has accomplished her goal of selling a six-figure horse several times over, with graduates of her breeding program including eventual multiple Grade 1 winner and millionaire Tizway, secured for $140,000 by William Clifton out of the Darby Dan consignment at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale.

And to call Pope’s current stock “nice” would be an understatement, as the group includes the likes of Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, champion Groupie Doll, and Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty.

Pope upgraded her broodmare band through a series of high-profile purchases in 2012 and 2013. She struck first in 2012 with Havre de Grace ($10 million, Fasig-Tipton select fall mixed sale), followed by Plum Pretty ($4.2 million, Keeneland November breeding stock sale).

Last fall, Pope landed Fasig-Tipton sale-topper Betterbetterbetter ($5.2 million) and then purchased Groupie Doll ($3.1 million at Keeneland November). All but the last are boarded at Wayne and wife Cathy Sweezey’s Timber Town Stable in Lexington, Ky. – and Groupie Doll will soon join the ranks at Timber Town, continuing the long association between Pope and the Sweezeys.

“It’s not just a friendship, it’s a mutual respect,” Wayne Sweezey said about Pope. “I always tell people, ‘Don’t discount Mandy on the horsemanship front. She’s very sharp.’ That’s one of the reasons we work so well together. That’s the basis of our relationship – horsemanship.”

Pope expressed similar admiration for the Sweezeys.

“Cathy and Wayne and I have a very similar background in our love of horses and growing up on a horse, and having ridden and understanding the communication that you have between yourself and a horse and that partnership,” Pope said. “That evolves into how you communicate with them on the ground and their caring and compassion for taking care of the horse. The horses are not just a business proposition or just a unit of something that you’re trying to sell. They actually are living, breathing souls that you can be a part of, and they can be a part of you.”

The Sweezeys will foal about 50 mares this spring, including six of their own. Pope said the size of the operation also is a plus.

“Depending on what side they’re on, the two big mares [Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty] basically live outside their kitchen door or outside their bedroom door, so they’re never too far from Wayne and Cathy, so that obviously makes me feel very happy and comfortable,” Pope said.

The Sweezeys, who launched the current Timber Town together in 2009, are no strangers to dealing with high-quality stock. During Wayne’s years as a general manager and partner at Darby Dan, the operation foaled, raised, and raced inaugural Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner and champion Soaring Softly, among other top runners. Cathy spent years as an exercise rider and assistant for a number of trainers, including Tom Skiffington, whose runners at the time included Grade 1 winner Anka Germania. Still, Pope’s popular mares are a different proposition.

“They’re great to have – it’s fun having such high-quality mares here. It’s undeniably super,” Wayne Sweezey said. “It unavoidably puts us in the limelight, to a degree. A lot of folks follow these racehorses and love Havre de Grace and love Plum. We’ve had to rev up our website. These mares are going to foal shortly, and we’re going to have to give fans the information that they want to follow their careers as broodmares.”

Pope recognizes that her additions have posed unique challenges.

“It was a big deal for Wayne and Cathy to take these kind of horses on,” Pope said. “They changed some things around to accommodate them. They put in an electric gate and monitor more the people that come and go … But as Wayne will always say, ‘They’re still just horses. They still need to go out in the field, they’re still going to get hurt, they’re still going to do all the things that horses do. You can’t put them in a rubber stall.’ ”

Despite that philosophy, Wayne Sweezey still admits to some recent nerves when introducing Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty – who have been turned out as a pair since their arrival in November 2012 – to a group of mares.

“Just recently in the last month, we put them out with some other mares with very close foaling dates,” Sweezey said. “Don’t think for a minute that my heart wasn’t in my throat. I didn’t worry too much about [Havre de Grace] getting hurt by another mare. I’m more worried about her hurting another mare. Plum is such a doll, very laid-back, and just goes with the flow. Havre de Grace is the dominant girl in the group, always. But those two were ready to be out with other mares. They’re happy to be in a herd rather than just the two together, so it worked out well.”

Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty are carrying their first foals, by Tapit and Distorted Humor, respectively, while Pope purchased Betterbetterbetter in foal to War Front. All three will visit War Front in 2014.

Groupie Doll, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 30 for Pope and trainer, co-breeder, and former co-owner Buff Bradley, is expected to make one more start in late January or early February and will then be bred to Tapit. Sweezey said he anticipates no trouble settling the mare in when she arrives.

“We’ll have to figure out who to buddy up with her. That mare got a lot of breaks during her racing career where she was turned out with other horses. She’s so laid-back. It ought to be not a problem at all.”

Before looking ahead to foaling season, the Sweezeys brought a small consignment of mares to the Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages, including Parley, who sold for $225,000 to Windhaven to rank among the top 10 prices in the opening session. Sweezey expressed optimism for the resurgent market.

“I have to be optimistic,” he said. “All the indicators are that we’re on the incline. After the November sales, when things seemed relatively bullish, I’m thinking 2014 could be pretty good for breeders and producers. I think it’s going to be more of a seller’s market. The market’s good, and it’s going to stay good a while as long as the general economy is good and the stock market is up the way it’s been.”