Polo took center stage at the Thoroughbred Makeover finale October 8 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Charlie Caldwell’s 3-year-old mare, Old Tavern, earned the title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred” and now belongs to polo pro Matt Coppola.
The Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium is the flagship event of the Retired Racehorse Project based in Davidsonville, Maryland, and over the last four years it has grown to become the premier event for OTTBs. In order to be eligible, horses must be registered and tattooed or microchipped with the Jockey Club, have raced or published a workout after July 1, 2015, and could not start their training for a second career before December 1, 2016.
The winner of the Makeover, nicknamed Taberna, is by Peak Dancer out of a King Cugat mare, Modest Madame. Caldwell bought her from breeder Larry Curtis of Middleburg, Virginia.
Taberna caught the eye of new USPA president Tony Coppola, who was one of the Makeover polo judges. He sent a video to his son, Matt Coppola, who is playing this season in Houston. The horse promptly joined their string of young Thoroughbreds.
“The first day my dad saw the horse, he called me and said she rides amazing,” said Matt. “I watched the video and thought, this is a serious little horse. I figured if my dad picked her she must be something special. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
So what was the secret to Taberna’s success in the Makeover? A steady hand and a large network of friends. Caldwell brought Taberna along the same way he has brought along his other prospects, with the help of renowned horseman Tommy Wayman, who he worked with all summer while playing at Flying H Polo Club in Big Horn, Wyoming.
After competing in the initial polo division competition, where players showcased their mount’s rideability and steadiness under pressure, the top five players returned to the finale, where they were judged one more time before the choice of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred was turned over to the spectators and viewers on the livestream.
Votes were tallied via text message, which played in favor of 17-year-old Caldwell and the tight-knit polo community. The call immediately went out through social media to rally the polo forces to vote, and the results were staggering: Taberna and Caldwell received 27% of the total vote, resulting in $15,500 in prize money for the duo–$5,000 for winning the division, $500 for being the top junior rider in the division, and $10,000 for the Most Wanted title.
Photo Courtesy GRC Photo/Retired Racehorse Project