Mandy's Way - By Esther Marr

 (Originally published in the June 18, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)  

When Tizway came charging down the stretch in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), his decisive 21⁄4-length victory was a confirmation for veteran breeder Mandy Pope. Her nearly 30 years in the Thoroughbred breeding business—the hard work, intuition earned through experience, and substantial financial investment—were now paying big dividends.

Pope, 56, has bred other stakes winners, even two group I winners. But the 6-year-old son of Tiznow, whom she no longer owns, is her first grade I win as a breeder. The icing on the cake was her Whisper Hill Farm became the first breeder to collect a $10,000 bonus for nominating the winner of a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race.  

“The two things you have to have in this business are time and patience,” said Pope, who has been rewarded as the breeder of group I winners Launch Sequence and Outstanding Lady, and other graded stakes victors Morning Meadow and Bearpath.

“I’m thankful to the owner of (Tizway) that he was persistent to keep going with him and not quit,” she said of William Clifton Jr. “It’s so easy to get frustrated in this game that you stop and don’t really give the horses a chance to mature and show you what they can do.”

Pope’s journey with Tizway’s family began nine years ago, when she purchased his dam, the Dayjur mare Bethany, for $135,000 at the 2002 Keeneland January mixed sale from Christiana Stables through Walnut Green, agent.  

“She had a lovely pedigree, being by Dayjur,” said Pope of Bethany, who was in foal to Pleasant Tap at the time of the sale. “Her conformation was also nice—she was very leggy and scopey.”
Pope said Tizway, who was foaled and raised at Wayne Sweezy’s Timber Town Stable near Lexington, was always a “good-sized, rangy kind of foal with a good temperament. He was very easy to get along with.”

When asked if she regretted selling Tizway, Pope said keeping him as a racing prospect simply wasn’t in the cards that year. Fortunately, Bethany delivered a full brother to Tizway March 20, and if all goes well, Pope plans on racing the colt.   

“We’ll have to see how things shape up next year,” she said. “I originally bred the mare to Tiznow, because I liked crossing the mare with Seattle Slew bloodlines, which is what Ticket to Seattle (Tizway’s stakes-winning half brother by Capote) also is.”

Pope, a North Carolina native and lifelong horse woman purchased her Citra, Fla.-based Whisper Hill Farm 29 years ago. Having grown up riding hunters and jumpers, she took some show horses to Florida for a competition in 1980 and wound up making the Sunshine State her permanent residence.

Pope jumped from the show horse world to the Thoroughbred racing scene when she took a job working with broodmares at George Steinbrenner’s Kinsman Stud. Two years later she began looking for her own farm.

“I wanted to settle down and not be traveling every weekend to a horse show, and I loved the Ocala area,” Pope said. “I had never been exposed to racehorses before having grown up in North Carolina, but I fell in love with the babies. My first broodmare was my Thoroughbred show horse, Blue Whisper. That’s who I named the farm (Whisper Hill) after.”

Pope’s operation quickly grew from two horses to more than 50, which she spreads between her farm in Florida and three other farms in Kentucky. Pope, who is on the board of directors for her family’s discount retail franchise company Variety Wholesalers, makes breeding and sale decisions along with friend and fellow breeder Kim Heath, Kentucky bloodstock consultants Chris Brothers and Davant Latham, and her fiancé, veterinarian Mike Chovanes.

Heath said much of Pope’s success has stemmed from her dedication to the industry and her refusal to give up during hard times.

“She perseveres, and she does her homework,” said Heath, who handles Pope’s mare bookings. “With all the setbacks and the heartbreaks in this business—she’s been doing it long enough that she knows you’re going to have these things—and if you persevere, you’re going to have the good things too.”

“As they always say, this sport has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and you try and keep your mindset somewhat in between,” added Pope. “There have been many good memories over the years…every time you see that newborn foal, every time you get to see one of your horses win—whether it’s one you bred or you own, and whether it’s a cheap race or big race—you’re always proud.” 

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