Respected Pinjarra trainer Brett Pope caused a boilover at Belmont last Saturday when his emerging stayer, Rivalry Galore, landed a maiden win in the $100,000 Listed Belmont Classic (2200m).
Starting as a $12 chance in the feature event, the Trade Fair gelding finished powerfully from the rear of a five-horse field to beat the state’s shortest-priced commodity of the 2018/19 season, Mystery Miss, a white-hot $1.12 favourite.
Adding to the excitement about Pope’s progressive galloper, who put the writing on the wall for his winning performance with noticeably-improved efforts at each of his previous runs, is the fact that he is still in his first race preparation.
Pope, 36, is widely regarded among Perth racing circles as a highly-astute horseman—and it’s hardly a surprise.
He is the son of Bill Pope, a successful trainer for more than 50 years, and Judy, a skilled horsewoman and long-time clerk of the course at thoroughbred and harness meetings in Pinjarra who is also the sister to prominent jockey-turned-trainer, Sharon Miller.
“The stables in Pinjarra where we are now is where I was born and bred,” Pope said.
“Mum and Dad still live right next door to the stables.
“Dad was a trainer and I just grew up helping him in the early days.
“I wasn’t old enough to ride the racehorses, so I did the pony trots for about four years because there was nothing in racing.
“I did that until I could get my trackwork licence and then I started riding for Dad.”
Pope’s eagerness to ride racehorses continued to grow, prompting him to want to leave school to pursue his new-found passion.
His parents, however, were adamant that he had to find a job first, leading to him commencing work with his Aunty Sharon (Miller).
But it was his next venture as an amateur race rider, some 20 years ago, that resulted in an unplanned acquisition and would see him travel the north-west of the state.
“I ended up riding at the Kojonup picnic races when I was 16,” Pope said.
“I rode a horse for Darryn Pateman, called Drops On The Rocks, and it won.
“Darryn was offloading him and I told him that I’d have him, and then I talked Sharon into giving me a yard to do a bit of work with him.
“When I got him fit, a good friend of mine, Dennis Couper, was travelling up north as he did every year and I asked him if I could go with him.
“I ended up travelling all around the country tracks.”
Drops On The Rocks, a Rare Pearl gelding, was a nine-year-old veteran of 82 race starts at the time and went on to win his first two outings for Pope and Couper at Mount Magnet and Onslow.
Once the season came to an end, Pope returned to Pinjarra to work for his father for the summer as he waited eagerly for the new Carnarvon season to roll around.
He spent his next north-west tenure working for local trainer Peter Daly, whilst also riding at amateur race meetings, all the while his desire to train horses started to grow.
“Dad was down to only about three or four horses when I got back from up north and he didn’t have enough work for me,” Pope said.
“I went up to Dwellingup and worked at an orchard picking fruit after I rode Dad’s horses for a few months.
“That wasn’t my go, I thought ‘I don’t really like doing this’, so I made up some flyers and sent them out to all of the trainers to start getting some horses to break in and pre-train, and that’s how it started.
“I started getting a few and it kept going and going.”
A proactive Pope and his father worked side-by-side as their stable numbers grew with a mixture of racehorses, pre-trainers and breakers over the coming years.
Asked whether there was a succession plan for him to take over his father’s stable when the time was right, Pope says it wasn’t something that he had given much thought to at the time.
“I wanted to progress, but I enjoyed doing it with my Dad, too,” he said.
“He was really good in that he guided me but let me find my own way of doing things.
“I probably would never have actually got my own licence, but Mum and Dad went on a holiday and I rang up to nominate a couple of horses and the stewards said it was about time I got my own licence.
“So, the next day I went up and got my licence.
“Only about five days later I had my first runner, Poppycutter, and it was a winner.”
Not long after he trained his first official winner, Pope set off to Sydney to work for 266-time Group One-winning legend of Australian horse racing, Bart Cummings.
Despite only staying for a few months, Pope gained invaluable knowledge and was exposed to riding some of the best-bred horses in the land.
He returned to his hometown with a vast range of experience acquired from the contrasting racing jurisdictions he had already encountered in his young career and he has built up his stable to have 35 racehorses in training at any given time in the decade since.
After being based primarily in Pinjarra for the entirety of his life, Pope relocated to a 276-acre property in Coolup four years ago, where he resides with partner and fellow trainer, Tameeka Brown, along with the pair’s two young daughters.
A 15-minute drive from his family-owned stables that neighbour the Pinjarra racecourse and remain his primary headquarters, he has built a 1400-metre heavy sand track at his farm and plans to install a 1000m-metre straight galloping track this summer.
“We’ve got 21 stables there but most of the racehorses are at Pinjarra,” Pope said.
“I’ve got grass paddocks at the farm where I can put them out for a few days after they race.
“Pinjarra is great for educating the babies, but during the summer I train a few racehorses out of the paddocks at the farm and it’s a bit more relaxed for them.
“We do a bit more out there every time we win a race and a bit more cash comes in.”
As well as having six cows and a bull on his property, Pope has also increased his thoroughbred breeding operation in recent years.
After enjoying success with his first home-bred galloper, Mantango, who won eight races and close to $300,000 in stake and Westspeed bonuses, he’s slowly added to his band of broodmares and has even acquired shares in two stallions.
“I’ve bought into Demerit and My Admiration,” Pope said.
“I’ve got some nice yearlings coming through and I have the mothers of Electric Light and Rivalry Galore, as well as the half-brother to Rivalry Galore.
“When I start breaking them in as yearlings I try to keep half and sell half.
“I love racing them myself, but I also enjoy having a few nice people to race them with.”
Reflecting back, Pope admits his new stable star, Rivalry Galore, made an inauspicious start to his career when finishing no better than fifth in his first four trials.
However, he says he had faith that WA’s newest stakes winner would improve sharply over more ground.
“He showed glimpses in his trackwork that he had ability, but at trials he just couldn’t put it together,” he said.
“We thought once he got out to a mile he would be competitive, and then he settled back last in his first start over 1400 metres and flew home with quite a good finish on him.
“Each run he went out a bit further and got better.
“In the 2000-metre maiden where he ran third, I thought we had him pretty-well right that day but he got back in traffic and couldn’t get a run.
“I had said to the owners beforehand that, if he won, he’d go to the Aquanita and, if he didn’t win, he’d go to the paddock.
“But to be fair to the horse, he didn’t have a fair crack at it that day and only got out at the 200 and sprinted home good to run third.
“It was a mighty run, so it gave me confidence to go the Aquanita and then he finished off that race really good so that gave us the confidence to press on to the Classic.”
In a stunning debut race preparation, Rivalry Galore raced six times en route to netting a Listed win, four minor placings and $124,600 in total earnings.
Pope says he was fortunate enough to receive an unexpected offer to train the gelding two years ago and the rest, as they say, is history.
“The owners approached me at the races and said they lived in Mandurah and were looking for a local trainer so they could come down and watch him race at Pinjarra.
“They bred him at Alwyn Park and we picked him up as a yearling.
“He had his first few starts at Pinjarra so he they could come down and watch, but they’re happy to travel to Ascot or Belmont now!”
Fresh from experiencing one of the highlights of a building career, the three-time leading Pinjarra Trainer of the Year also identifies two other moments as special memories, including winning the 2015 Listed Starstruck Classic with Tarquinn Shadow at Ascot.
“Riding a winner for my dad at Kojonup would be a personal highlight,” Pope said.
“We went down there with two horses, one for my dad and the other for one of my best mates, and they both won.
“I don’t think Tarquinn Shadow was as good as Rivalry Galore is, but she got away with a stakes win.
“I only paid $1,800 for her and she won $220,000 and I sold her as a broodmare for $100,000.
“Her first foal sold at the Gold Coast the other day for $180,000.”
Asked what he would like to achieve in the coming season, Pope says he always has a simple goal but is particularly excited about the next 12 months ahead.
“You just want to win more races each year, really,” he said.
“But I think we’ve got our best crop of two-year-olds that we’ve ever had now.
“They are all ready to trial over the next few weeks and they had jump-outs over their last couple of preps.
“We’ve been patient with our two-year-olds this year to try to get a bit of longevity into them for the next few years.”