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Tue

Aug

4

NATIONAL EIGHT GOAL

Beverly Polo Club

9:30 AM ET

Morgan Stanley

Dragonfly/Point to Point

Fri

Aug

7

SILVER CUP®

Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club - sf

LIVE
1:00 PM ET

Antelope

Farmers & Merchants Bank

Fri

Aug

7

AMERICA CUP

Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club - sf

3:00 PM ET

Klentner Ranch

Dundas

Fri

Aug

7

AMERICA CUP

Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club - sf

5:00 PM ET

Santa Clara

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AMERICA’S MOST WANTED THOROUGHBRED IS A POLO PONY!

Oct 27, 2017 12:58 PM

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Image of "America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred" - Old Tavern, pictured with Joanna, Harry, Rob and Charlie Caldwell. ©Anne Litz
"America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred" - Old Tavern, pictured with Joanna, Harry, Rob and Charlie Caldwell. ©Anne Litz

Polo took center stage at the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover, October 5-7 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Harry Caldwell and Old Tavern not only conquered the polo division, the first junior trainer to do so, but Caldwell’s three-year-old bay mare garnered the title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.”

Image of Charlie Caldwell and Old Tavern wait to enter the arena for their finale showing.
Charlie Caldwell and Old Tavern wait to enter the arena for their finale showing. ©Anne Litz

Established in 2013, the event has slowly gained momentum over its four-year run. Neil Agate, United States Polo Association (USPA) member and President of the American Horse Council, was the driving force behind the inclusion of polo as one of the 10 major disciplines included in the competition. “Neil called me in February of 2013,” USPA Director of Club Development, Justin Powers recalled, “and said ‘I’ve convinced the Retired Racehorse Project to include polo as a discipline, can you get participants?’” The answer was yes and with an estimated 40 percent of polo ponies represented by off the track thoroughbreds (OTTB) the competition has a large demographic from which to draw. Combined with the USPA's official sponsorship of the division the event has grown each year, yet the competition is not widely known amongst the polo community. To up the ante, this year, Powers recruited International Polo Club Palm Beach Director of Polo Operations, Jimmy Newman, and newly-minted USPA President Tony Coppola as judges. Staples of the polo community, these well-known polo greats offered a wealth of knowledge of thoroughbreds and polo. "We would love to have more polo participation," Powers stressed, "I would like to see some higher level green horse trainers."

Image of USPA Director of Club Development, Justin Powers, flanked by his mother Cindy Powers and Judges Tony Coppola and Jimmy Newman.
USPA Director of Club Development, Justin Powers, flanked by his mother Cindy Powers and Judges Tony Coppola and Jimmy Newman.

Each horse entered must meet three basic prerequisites and each trainer pays a small entry fee, making the Thoroughbred Makeover a feasible goal for any polo enthusiast, not necessarily just professional players and experienced polo pony trainers. In fact, there are three levels, Junior, Professional and Amateur. The polo competition consists of five- to seven-minute performances showcasing the agility and movements of the polo pony, as well as their progression with the mallet and ball by executing different polo shots. The competition provides a stage for individuals to showcase their horse training skills and gain notoriety, along with the chance to sell their horses and network amongst a diverse group of horse disciplines. In addition to the competition, the symposium includes seminars, a sponsor fair and horse sales.

Image of Professional Competitor Mike Groubert riding Lo Tide.
Professional Competitor Mike Groubert riding Lo Tide.

While the competition as a whole garnered about 300 OTTB's, the polo division fielded 11 makeover entries and eight riders, including three juniors, two amateurs and three professionals. Similar to the Kentucky Derby pre-show vignettes, each horse and rider has a unique story and there is no limit to the heartwarming anecdotes of competitor's roundabout journeys leading up to the competition.

Image of First-time Polo Division competitor Amber Longreen riding Whiskey Rebel makes her way to the arena for the Polo Division Finale.
First-time polo competitor Amber Longreen riding Whiskey Rebel makes her way to the arena for the Polo Division Finale.

When Powers initially reached out for polo participants in 2013, his obvious first stop was his racehorse obsessed polo-playing family. "My father is a third-generation thoroughbred trainer and track farrier based at Mountaineer Racetrack in Chester, West Virginia," Powers said. Truly a family affair, a member of the Powers family has entered a horse in the competition almost every year. "We have been involved with the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover since its inception," said Juliette Powers, younger sister to Justin Powers who showed five-year-old Meander Creekgoose, finishing sixth overall. “'Goose' actually has a pretty interesting story; she was a homebred from a local girl who passed away from cancer. The girl’s friend, before she passed away, started the horse three times as a four-year-old. Unfortunately, Goose has absolutely no talent as a racehorse, she made a total of $263 dollars. I bought her for $300 dollars."

Image of Charlie Caldwell on Old Tavern and Harry Caldwell riding Red's Heart Beat.
Charlie Caldwell on Old Tavern and Harry Caldwell riding Red's Heart Beat.

Seventeen-year-old identical twins, Charlie and Harry Caldwell, members of Bluewater Creek Polo Club in Killen, Alabama, had an adventurous approach to their first appearance in the Thoroughbred Makeover. “Our friend Clare [Pinney] asked us to do it, she had a good friend that had competed and so she asked us if we would join her,” Charlie Caldwell said. Renaissance men when it comes to equine disciplines, the pair have a background in fox hunting, team roping, polocrosse and added polo to their list a little over two years ago. This summer, the two brothers spent time in Sheridan, Wyoming, mentoring with former 10-goaler and Hall of Famer Tommy Wayman. “It was the best experience of our lives,” said Charlie Caldwell. "Working with Wayman was the most beneficial thing that has ever happened to us,” Harry Caldwell echoed. In fact, both horses that they entered in the Makeover were training the past few months under Wayman's watchful eye. And while they have grown up showing, they were not familiar with this caliber of competition. "It's very competitive," Charlie Caldwell said, "but it's not about winning it's about bringing the horse along. Plus, it's fun to meet a different group of polo people."

Image of he Caldwell family celebrating their Polo Division Thoroughbred Makeover win.
The Caldwell family celebrate their Polo Division Thoroughbred Makeover win.

While winning might not be everything, Charlie Caldwell, in fact, won it all—including an impressive $15,500 in prize money. High-scorer in the polo division on both days, he edged past last year's champion Buck Schott. After securing his division win, Charlie Caldwell and Old Tavern, fondly referred to as "Taberna," moved on to capture the "America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred" title. Up against the division champions from each discipline (Barrel Racing, Competitive Trails, Dressage, Eventing, Field Hunter, Freestyle, Show Hunter, Show Jumper and Working Ranch), viewers at home watching the livestream as well as those in the arena were encouraged to choose their favorite and vote by text message. The polo community rallied behind the teenager whose campaign quickly spread via Facebook. Receiving a decisive 27 percent of the total votes, Old Tavern was awarded the celebrated accolade—the first time a polo pony has taken top honors in the event. Purchased from Larry Curtis of Middleburg, Virginia, in November 2016, the mare by Peak Dancer out of Modest Madame was trained but never raced. While other horses were prancing in place, Taberna stood calm, characteristically unfazed by her newfound celebrity, as photographers jostled for prime positioning. Judge Coppola was so impressed by the young mare he bought her immediately following the award ceremony.

Charlie Caldwell's winning ride on Old Tavern begins at 26:40.

In terms of the polo community at large, the significance of this historical achievement cannot be undervalued. While polo pony training is highlighted and rewarded in other polo dominant countries such as Argentina, it is something that is not as readily acknowledged in the United States. Establishing polo's legitimacy among the country's major equine disciplines is a momentous step forward for the sport, not only showcasing the versatility of the polo pony, but also drawing attention to the adaptability of an OTTB’s penchant for the game.

"Most of us in polo don’t experience this whole horse show community," Agate stated. "I think about half of the competitors this year are professionals, we need to encourage that. We’ve had some interest from some of the high-goal teams sending people, so hopefully we will be able to really push that."

Image of Buck Schott on Curveball Lily. ​
Buck Schott on Curveball Lily. ​

For those considering signing up in next year’s competition, Schott (who garnered second, third and fourth place) has this to say: “For sure sign up, you have nothing to lose, you are going to become more experienced and the horse is going to become more experienced—and you might sell a horse out of it! If you are a trainer who purchases a green horse yearly, it might as well be one that meets the qualifications to do this.” The precedent has been set. Now, it is up to the polo community to demonstrate our renowned solidarity. Benefitting both polo trainers and repurposed OTTB's, the Thoroughbred Makeover will continue to serve as a transformative platform, highlighting polo potential not often showcased, one year at a time.

October 4-7, 2018 at Kentucky Horse Park is confirmed for the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover!

▪ Updated Rules will be published December 1. Click here to view 2017 rules.

▪ Trainer applications will be accepted from December 1 – January 15

▪ Trainer approvals will be announced February 1

▪ Horse eligibility rules are unchanged from 2017. Horses must have raced or had a published work after June 30, 2016 and not have started training in a second career before December 1, 2017.

Updated Rules will be published December 1. Click here to view 2017 rules.

Updated Rules will be published December 1. Click here to view 2017 rules.

Trainer applications will be accepted from December 1 – January 15

Trainer approvals will be announced February 1

To apply for the Makeover, trainers must be current RRP Members. Click here to join.

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