(Mandy Pope and her inspection team at the Keeneland Sales / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
I will be the first to tell you that I don’t know Mandy Pope. Know her when I see her, because of the photos taken. Know her by reputation, too, which one easily gets — whether earned or not — in this here business. Chatted with her a couple of times at the Keeneland Sales after a major purchase or two.
But that’s it.
Can’t tell you her favorite color, although I suspect that green is one of them. Can’t tell you much about Variety Wholesalers, a company that her family founded and still owns privately. Can’t tell you how she fell in love with the Thoroughbred industry, although it is plain to see that she did and still is. Can’t tell you where her farm — Whisper Hill — is located (it’s in Florida, I am told; with another in Kentucky); how many acres it is (or they are); how many horses she has; or whether she prefers to win a big race or breed a big horse (although it appears that she has designs on doing both).
But I can tell you this one thing.
I wouldn’t want to bid against her.
I wouldn’t want to hassle over price with her.
And, as Jim Croce once sang about “Jim:” “…you don’t tug on superman’s cape…you don’t spit into the wind…you don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger…and you don’t mess around with Jim.” In this case sub out the word and insert “Mandy.”
On Wednesday, Mandy Pope put everyone in the world of Thoroughbred breeding and racing on further notice. When it comes to buying something that Mandy really wants? You had better bring your “A” game. You had better bring your nerve and your stamina. And, you had better bring a satchel — or two, or three, or 400 — of money.
On Wednesday, Mandy Pope outbid the world in buying Hip 498 — a bay filly by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and a half-sister to Champion Beholder, Breeders’ Cup winner Mendelssohn, and one of he world’s hottest sires Into Mischief — for a cool $8.2 million.
The final price tag shatters the world record for a yearling filly, although the Europeans would argue that due to exchange rates that they currently hold the record at Tattersalls.
Keeneland and Mandy do.
The final bid staggered and finally sunk the greatest of Thoroughbred bidders and buyers — Sheikh Mohammed and his colossal Godolphin stable.
And, the final tally left Mandy Pope standing — alone — at the top of the world’s most aggressive buyers when it comes to Championship pedigrees for fillies and mares.
After all, in 2012, it was Mandy Pope would made history when she bought 2011 Horse of the Year Havre De Grace for a record $10 million at the Fast-Tipton November Sale.
The very next day, she spent $4.2 million for 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty.
In 2013, at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, she bough 2-time Breeders’ Cup winner Groupie Doll for $3.1 million.
In 2017, Mandy Pope bought the great, multiple Champion race mare Songbird for a whopping $9.5 million.
Interesting now that Songbird and a 1/2-sister to her greatest rival, Beholder, will now share common ground and ownership. After all, the purists and conspiracy theorists both concur that the photo in their Breeders’ Cup showdown was altered to allow Beholder to win by a nose hair.
But there is something far more important than just coincidence and irony going on here.
You see, Mandy Pope stands atop the world again — having purchased a yearling filly from a mare who is now 23 years old for a whopping $8.2 million.
But, more importantly than stature and fame?
You see, the fillies and mares are the blueprint to success in breeding generation to generation; the blue hens of the breed that carry on the great families of yesteryear to today and tomorrow; the bluest of blue bloods that must be kept to ensure that the States and Kentucky, for that matter, stay atop the world in breeding, producing, raising the very best of the Thoroughbred industry.
In the past, the Bull Hancocks and his Claiborne Farm; the Ogden Phipps and the Phipps Stable; the John Galbreaths and his Darby Dan Farm; the Leslie Combs’ and his Spendthrift Farm; the John Gaines’ and his Gainesway Farm and many others just like them were the custodians.
They not only protected their female families. They cherished them and saved them. Most of all, they kept them. Here. Right here.
Alarmingly to some, the industry has caved on many of those commitments over the past few years. Almighty dollar(s) have ruled. Female bloodlines have diminished, if not vanished. Overseas. Over there. Nearly, over night.
Now, though, some are being saved. Again.
More than anyone else in recent history and memory, Mandy Pope can be credited; should be credited; has to be credited with keeping and sustaining some of the great female families in these United States.
More than anyone else, Mandy Pope has become the guardian of the gate. A gate that has swung so far wide that the number of great families that have disappeared from these United States to both Europe, Japan and parts unknown have been flooding other continents and leaving American breeders with fewer cupboards to bear.
More than anyone else, right now, the industry owes a great deal of gratitude to Mandy Pope.
For her dollars, to be sure.
But, more importantly, for her commitment.
For her staunch belief.
And, for her stewardship.
I would like to meet her someday. Share a Coke or a coffee. Sounds like the kind of woman the Thoroughbred industry needs more of. Seems like the kind of person the world needs.
Sounds like a woman that knows that each time she raises her hand to bid and buy, she does so with authority and commitment.
My kind of person.
(Thank goodness for “Mister Softie” at this year’s Keeneland Sale / Photos by Gene McLean)
Soft Serve Ice Cream at the Keeneland Sale:
Before this year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale ever began there was a social media storm on the horizon. Brewing. Gathering steam. Boiling over.
It seems as if Keeneland was preparing to have a sale without offering the famous soft serve ice cream at the venue.
Social media was turned upset down.
Not to fear. If anything at all, Keeneland is responsive to their customer’s needs.
Sure enough, when the sale began there was not one or two little machines cranking out the chocolate, vanilla or the swirl for the buyers and sellers — there was a food truck. In this case, an ice cream truck stationed at the top of the hill for all to access and satisfy the overwhelming need for soft serve ice cream.
Thanks be to God and to Keeneland.