Jeff Cullipher and Tom Pollack join forces to reign supreme
by Rose Flood
Since 2014, the partnership of Jeff Cullipher and Tom Pollack has been no stranger to victory. The duo has collected wins all over the U.S. and continue to frequent the winner’s circle in stakes events. Coming off the heels of a year with a victory in the $270,000 Indiana Sires Stakes final by TJ’s Top Pick (Swan For All, $302,871) and a win in the $100,000 Potomac Pace with older pacer Endeavor (American Ideal, $718,937), Cullipher and Pollack look toward another dominant season in 2020.
Whether it’s discussing how exactly to train each of their contenders or keeping an eye on potential barn additions, Cullipher and Pollack clearly have the recipe for success.
Three decades ago, the last thing on Pollack’s mind was overseeing a stable of nearly 100 horses. The owner/president and chief financial officer of the pharmaceutical company CCN America LP purchased a piece of his first horse in 2000. In fact, he had no interest in racing. The sport inserted itself into his life in a very random fashion.
“I got hooked on the business in the late 1980s,” the Venetia, Pa. resident said. “I was working at a golf course and was very into golf, when I kept being asked to go to the racetrack. I said no several times and really knew nothing about horse racing. Finally, I gave in and after winning on some bets that evening, I was hooked on the sport.
“I started out with a couple of different trainers at The Meadowlands. I ended up getting an Indiana-bred just at the end of her 3-year-old year. She didn’t do too well, so I sent her to Jeff.”
Pollack then transitioned to Cullipher, who has captured the leading trainer title at Harrah’s Hoosier Park for the last three years, as his primary conditioner in the Midwest. Cullipher, introduced to Pollack by fellow trainer Randy Bendis, joined Pollack in horse ownership after that first year and they have remained partners ever since.
Cullipher and Pollack complement one another in terms of strengths—Pollack is able to watch horses that could be a good addition to the stable as they race and handles the business side while Cullipher handles the day-to-day tasks, training the horses to be the best they can be. When it comes to yearlings, the two pick their own horses and put them in a categorized list. They combine the lists and see what they’re both drawn to—usually similar picks. If one doesn’t like the other’s choice, they vocalize their concerns but disagreements rarely crop up.
“You go to [Tom’s] house and he has three TVs with racing on all of them,” Cullipher said. “He knows the horses beyond ours better than me. He watches them all the time.”
Cullipher, who lives in Pendleton, Ind., is also careful to make sure he steers clear of training conflicts with Pollack and usually will not take horses other than the ones he owns.
The team quickly took over the leading positions at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Both Cullipher and Pollack are proponents and supporters of Indiana’s racing program. They enjoy the track and facilities at Hoosier Park, along with the ability to race against some smaller stables than they would on the East Coast.
They have also enjoyed success with Grand Circuit winner and New York Sire Stakes champion Wisdom Tree (Betterthancheddar, $624,931) and the tough overnight horses Montenegro (Camluck, $699,699) and White Metro (Metropolitan, $359,530).
“As I started coming out [to Hoosier Park], I really fell in love with it,” Pollack said. “They treat their horsemen well. We started carving out our own little niche there when we started to have more success. It’s a great place to bring quality horses and do pretty well. It’s a quality place to race.”
As far as starting to race at the eastern tracks in 2019, Pollack said the decision was a no-brainer as he and Cullipher invest a lot in the business. Pollack has also enjoyed success on the East Coast with Grand Circuit competitor Medusa (Bettor’s Delight, more than $1 million) and overnight veteran Crosbys Clam Bake (Kadabra, $737,646).
“I saw some of the bigger names splitting their stables and I thought, ‘Well, why can’t I do that?’” Cullipher said. “It’s working well for us.”
The two even agree on what their favorite memories are from their partnership. One of them is Wisdom Tree winning the $142,000 Nadia Lobell at Hoosier Park in 2018, where she lowered the track standard for 3-year-old pacing fillies to 1:49.4.
“Wisdom Tree has turned out to be a real blessing,” Cullipher said.
For the 2019 season, they also agree that pacing gelding Endeavor pulling an 11-1 upset in the Potomac Pace at Rose-croft Raceway was a big moment. Another highlight of that year was watching the success of TJ’s Top Pick, as he dominated the Indiana Sire Stakes circuit prior to winning the lucrative final.
“TJ’s Top Pick has his name for a reason,” Cullipher said. “He’s an absolute standout. The final was a great moment.”
As far as advice for anyone interested in ownership, the duo agreed that communication is the most important trait for an owner to possess. Owners must be able to communicate with trainers or other owners. The two also recommend having some partners to share the risk, as this business, like any, has its ups and downs. They also recommend balancing a stable with solid older horses and yearlings.
“Some people go into it with a 2-year-old thinking it’s going to be the next big champion,” Pollack said. “That’s a fast way to run out of money.”
Along with strong communication skills, the pair reiterates that having a trainer to trust and work well with is extremely important. According to Pollack, that’s a key cog in the wheel. Cullipher, who is coming off his best year as a trainer with more than $3.41 million in the bank, also encourages people to ride the wave of the business and, while nobody likes to, roll with the losses.
“I think from my perspective, I regard Jeff as one of my best friends as well as a business partner,” Pollack said. “We’re just fortunate that things worked out the way they did. He’s done a great job and I think we’ve complemented each other well over the years.”
In 2020, the duo will likely be competing at the same venues.
“We have something we built that really works,” Pollack said. “I’m glad we’re partners and I’m hoping we can continue.”
“I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone other than Tom,” Cullipher said. “He never pressures me with any decisions with the horses. We make a good team.”
Keep an eye on the leaderboards this year and for many to come, as it’s highly likely Cullipher and Pollack’s accomplishments will continue.
Rose Flood is the race marketing and operations administrator at Hoosier Park. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.