When looking at a horse like Dolfina Popular, owned and played by 10-goaler Sapo Caset, one instantly thinks stallion. The seven-year-old’s stature, build, and the way he carries himself exudes masculinity. Standing in the bougainvillea adorned courtyard entrance at Isla Carroll (Welington, Florida) to have his picture taken, he posed by lifting his head just slightly and moved his ears forward. His legs perfectly positioned, his groom let go of the reins and nonchalantly walked away—Popular did not move an inch. “He loves to pose,” all his trainers said, and it’s obvious. His eyes have a sense of knowing about them and confidence. It’s no wonder Caset feels at the top of his game when playing him. We took a moment to speak with Caset about Popular and ask him what makes this horse stand above the rest and if there is any significance in having a stallion in his string.
What do you feel makes Popular unique?
“He has a phenomenal mouth and he explodes forward when you ask him to go. He is very quick and powerful. One of those horses that simply makes you a better player every time you get on him. Being a stallion, he tends to have more energy and power than some of the other horses in my string. He lasts longer so I am able to play him more. For example, if he played a game yesterday I will still need to ride him today to have him stay one hundred percent for tomorrow’s game. The other horses have an easy day and he still has to work.”
What chukker do you normally play him?
“I try to always play him a little in the fifth and a little in the sixth chukker. No more than seven or eight minutes total. However, in the final of the Joe Barry Cup, I decided to play him in the third and for some reason after about two minutes of playing, he felt just the slightest bit like he was cramping up. Because I switched off of him, they wouldn’t let me get back on him when I wanted to in the sixth. I was kicking myself because I really wanted to play him in the last chukker.”
We see that he has a sheep companion, how did this friendship come to be?
“Sometimes the life of a stallion can be very lonely. He is always by himself. He doesn’t go on set with any of the other horses, he can’t be tied close to any other horses on the trailer, he has to travel by himself, and he has to live by himself in the barn. It can be very boring, so we found him a friend when we brought him here. The first thing we tried was this sheep we picked up in Loxahatchee [Florida]. We named her Perla and they seem to get along really well. They spend all of their time together, except for games and when they are eating. Popular wants all the food and will push Perla off of her food to get to it. We really didn’t have to try any other animals, they were introduced and they have been friends ever since.”
How did Popular become part of your string?
“I purchased Popular from a breeding operation called Doña Sofia, that had purchased him from Adolfo Cambiaso’s breeding program. His dam is Cuartetera and sire is Durazno. Doña Sofia had let me play him in Argentina and I wanted to purchase him right away, but they were not ready to sell. I played him a few more times and the more I played him, the more I wanted him. The following year when he was five I asked again and they let me buy him and take him home. No one else has really played him since his training and that has been a really special feeling to have him progress with me in my string.”
What are some highlights from his career?
“He played in his first Argentine Triple Crown at the age of four. Before that he played in Tortuga’s and Hurlingham. Last year at age six I took him with me to play in the 2017 Gold Cup [at Cowdray Park Polo Club] in England and he brought home a Best Playing Pony Prize at a Saturday featured match.”
Do you have a favorite playing memory with him?
“There really isn’t just one memory that stands out. I know that every time I play him I feel different as a player. He makes me a better player because of how good he is. He gives me the confidence I want to make any play that comes to mind. I can trust him, which is key for any polo player. I feel him getting better in every game and myself getting stronger on him. For a top player, we know when we are on a top horse and when we are not. With him, I know that when I get on him in a chukker I can do whatever I want on the field. Some other horses, I can’t hit the ball too long because I may not be able to get to it in time, or I can’t do certain plays because the horses mouth is not as sensitive as I may need it to be. With Popular, I know I can do whatever I’m thinking. I only have to concentrate on the game and not even think about riding.”
Do you feel there is a big difference between him being a stallion compared to some of your top mares or geldings?
“As far as playing, not really. The biggest difference is that he has bottomless energy. He never tires and I have to keep working him every day. Having a stallion obviously means he gets special treatment and has to be handled in a different way. We have to be careful of his temperament and keep him away from the other horses. This means doing things like taking him on set on the back of a motor bike. One of the grooms drives, while the other sits on the back holding the lead rope. He goes around the field like this and doesn’t seem to mind it. This is the first year we started doing this and it has been a safe solution for him and the other horses.”
Does he have any siblings that are also playing right now?
“He has a full brother – Dolfina Guitarrero. He won Best Playing Pony under [Adolfo] Cambiaso during the Argentine Open in 2016 [La Dolfina versus Alegria Semifinal]. They are the same age and Cambiaso didn’t actually start playing him until he saw me playing Dolfina Popular. He noticed how well this one was doing and pulled the brother from the farm and started playing him right away. He’s been doing really well.”
Where would you like to see him in five years?
“In Argentina, at my farm breeding. I think in five years when he’s 12 years old, he will be ready to retire and begin breeding full time. I already have eight babies from him that I bred when I first purchased him, all about one-year-old or younger. I really look forward to what they will become.”