Undefeated Polk’s Image is Cullipher’s capable sires stakes hopeful

by James Platz

Last season, Polk’s Image failed to reach the winner’s circle in nine freshman attempts. In 2023, the filly is perfect in six attempts, the latest a gritty 1:52.2 score Thursday (May 11) in the $11,000 second leg of The Go On BB series at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Trained and co-owned by Jeff Cullipher, the Rockin Image—Polk Dot Hanover lass has produced multiple early-season triumphs after falling short of expectations in 2022.

“I don’t know that you would call it disappointment, but she for sure didn’t perform like we were hoping,” said Cullipher, who owns the pacer with Tom Pollack. “She was okay. She just seemed like she was on the edge of breaking through. I kind of thought she was better than what she was showing.”

Polk’s Image didn’t begin the 2022 campaign in the Cullipher stable. Conditioned by owner Curtis Rice, the filly made her debut on July 4 at Hoosier Park, racing second in a $20,000 event for Indiana-sired 2-year-olds. Polk’s Image stopped the clock that day in 1:52. This performance followed a qualifying effort at Oak Grove where the freshman wired the field and won by eight lengths in 1:56. Cullipher and Pollack took notice and inquired about the young pacer before her July 4 start. Rice unexpectedly died on July 5 and soon the filly moved into Cullipher’s shedrow.

“We don’t really buy a lot of 2-year-olds,” Cullipher said. “She’s got a good body, but maybe not the perfect conformation. She went an impressive mile last year in the race before we bought her. She had some high speed.”

The first foal from a six-figure-earning Western Ideal mare, Polk’s Image immediately jumped into Indiana Sires Stakes competition. Piloted by Peter Wrenn, the freshman finished second in one leg and third in another last season, but managed to finish out of the money four times. While qualifying for the Super Final last October, Cullipher’s charge went off as the longest shot on the board at 92-1, finishing fifth with a 1:53.1 effort. She finished the campaign with nearly $45,000 on her card and a beaten time of 1:52.

The lack of a win and modest earnings last year made Polk’s Image eligible to early series action at Harrah’s Hoosier Park this spring. She has responded well to the early tests this season, rolling to six consecutive victories.

“I’d like to think she’s just a little more mature now,” Cullipher said. “She was a little bit on the hotter side last year. Pete Wrenn was driving her and he’s great at teaching her while racing her. This year, she’s more than capable of racing out of a hole or on the front.”

After a pair of qualifiers over the Anderson oval, Polk’s Image made her sophomore debut a winning one in The Rosie Harness Memorial. Driven by Tyler Smith, the pacer won by nearly three lengths as the favorite in the $12,500 contest, stopping the clock in 1:54.2. Kyle Wilfong picked up the lines the next time out, steering the 3-year-old to a 1:53.4 score in the $12,500 Kenneth Stohler Memorial. Returning with Wilfong in the bike for the second leg on April 13, Polk’s Image dominated from the start, setting all the fractions before winning by almost seven lengths in 1:51. They captured the final one week later in similarly dominating fashion, this time crossing the wire in 1:52.4. Polk’s Image rolled right into the Go On BB series with the same momentum, winning a division of the first leg with a 1:52.3 clocking.

“She hasn’t been completely stretched out every week. She’s had some good miles, but some easy miles for her so far,” Cullipher said.

Thursday’s contest may be the toughest the filly has experienced this season. Cullipher admitted the sophomore was not at her best, but he took note of how she fought gamely in the stretch to hold on for the win. Leaving from post two, Wilfong pulled from second and took command racing to the half and maintained a two-length advantage throughout the circuit and into the stretch. Sweet Tell and Ricky Macomber Jr. erased that margin in the lane, but came up a nose short at the wire.

“She went a good mile, but she didn’t perform quite like she has been,” said Cullipher, currently the leading trainer at Hoosier Park. “She did dig in and fight the horse that was there. Obviously, she’s six-for-six this year, what’s not to like.”

For all the early success Polk’s Image has achieved — $39,750 banked to date — the conditioner and co-owner knows she will have to be at the top of her game once sires stakes begin near the end of the month. She has yet to square off against last year’s top freshman talent, including the likes of fillies Rollin Rosie, Sleazy Mama, Queen’s Reign and Super Final winner Fortunada.

“This year she’s going some really good miles right now and I’d like to think she’ll be somewhat competitive, but the competition is going to get a little steeper,” he said. “I think she’s gone a couple of miles that show she’s sires stakes capable, but you never know what Brian Brown is going to bring, or Erv Miller. They usually come loaded.”

Time will tell whether she is up for the challenge. First, the Dave Mast-bred sophomore has a chance to complete the series sweep in the $22,000 Go On BB final, set for May 20. Cullipher then will have nine days to prepare. So far, she has passed every test.