A native to Miami, Florida, and graduate of The University of Florida, John Ropes has a real estate consulting and development firm based in Fort Lauderdale.

However, it’s no surprise that as a Florida native, John Ropes was drawn to the horse business as well.

“I fondly remember my father studying the race programs at home using his own special handicapping system,” says John Ropes. “Back in 1980, I had a secretary whose father, Andy Smithers, was a trainer in Canada and wintered in Florida. I was enraptured by the horse-racing business and told Andy that I wanted to claim a horse. At the end of the meet at Gulfstream, Andy called me and said he found a horse named Half French that I should claim. I claimed the horse for $15,000 and he finished way in the back end at a mile-and-an-eighth on the dirt, much to my disappointment.”

But Andy told Ropes “Just look at those feet! Those are turf feet, so don’t worry about this horse – I’ll take him to Canada and we’ll win on the turf!”

Half French proceeded to win several allowance races in Canada that summer..

“I had been bitten by the horse-racing bug, so I decided to buy a quaint 31-acre farm in Ocala called Rosegrove Farm in 1985 with a partner, and we went on to breed, train, and race horses,” Ropes explains.

RoseGrove would later be the birthplace of Mucho Macho Man, who won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Ropes decided to scale back his operation during the 1980’s and 1990’s recession. “I bought my partner out in the early 1990’s and concentrated more on breeding. I did all my breeding, racing, and selling in Florida,” Ropes adds.

Today, Ropes does most of his breeding with about twelve mares in Kentucky and three mares in Florida.

“My farm is a small operation that I liken to a craft brewery where there is an emphasis on quality and technique. I surround myself with trusted advisors and horse professionals such as Marette Farrell, Niall Brennan, Gayle Woods, David O’Farrell and Beth Bayer. I have a terrific crew on the farm – although not related by blood, we are related by heart. We are a family and treat our horses with loving care and devotion,” Ropes says.

“Because Florida is a great place to raise horses, we breed here but also take weanlings from mares in Kentucky and raise them here in Florida where we decide whether to put them in a yearling sale, a 2-year-old in training sale or straight in training for the racetrack. The talented horse professionals here, tight-bonded horse industry, and of course the climate, are great for horses and are what put Ocala on the map.”

But it is Dorth Vader, a home-bred filly sired by Girvin and out of Hardcore Candy, a broodmare Ropes bought at OBS several years ago, that Ropes says is the best horse he has had the privilege of owning.

“Gayle Woods trained Dorth Vader as a two-year-old and Gayle saw her potential.  Dorth Vader was sent to Michael (Bo) Yates who raced her at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs, producing a stakes record at Tampa Bay and an absolutely thrilling Grade 2 win in the Davona Dale at 46-1 odds, clearing the field by four-and-three-quarter lengths. That was my first graded stakes win in the 43 years I’ve been in the horse business and Michael Yates’ first graded stakes win of his career,” Ropes says proudly.

Dorth Vader was named after the love of Ropes life, Dorothy Harden.

“She complained I had never named a horse after her in our seven years together. I had the last laugh when I named the horse Dorth Vader, knowing that Dorothy is a Star Wars fan and, well, the name says it all. From the moment I told her about the horse being named, Dorothy always had faith that Dorth Vader would be a champion,” Ropes says.

“My favorite time as a horse owner by far was taking Dorth Vader to Churchill Downs for the Oaks. It was an exciting time that all horse owners strive to achieve. The year before, in 2022, I took Dorothy to the Derby and the Oaks for her first time. I explained to her about the Oaks, and she told me that we were going to be in the Oaks with Dorth Vader – I thought she was crazy. A year later, there we were in one of the biggest, most prestigious races in the country! Michael Yates’ family was originally from Kentucky before settling in Florida, and it was exciting for him and his relatives still living in Kentucky. I learned so much about what it takes to race at the elite level, the ups and downs, the time behind the scenes, what you can and cannot control, and always considering what is best for the horse,” Ropes said.

Like her namesake, Dorth Vader is special and has big heart, an indominable will, and a fighting spirit.

“Dorth Vader loves to train and work hard. She’s the happiest on the track. She has been in Kentucky since August to recuperate and gear up for 2024 and has started back in training for the Spring. Our goal is to train for the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar in November. We hope this will be her best year on the racetrack,” Ropes explains.

Another special horse for Ropes right now is Waltzing Mitole – a Florida-bred two-year-old colt in training at Ocala Stud and entered in the March Ocala Breeders’ Sales. His dam, Zooming By, produced Faction Cat who was the fastest horse in North America the year he won a stakes race in Tampa. “We have high hopes for the Mitole colt as he is showing very good promise at Ocala Stud. We hope he will waltz his way to many racing wins!” Ropes says.

“I have learned what it means to be in the horse business – you are here for the love of the horse. They are magnificent creatures who teach valuable lessons to me and the Rosegrove Farm family every day. The birth of horses for me brings the promise of life and anticipation of great things to come. I wonder if each foal will be the next Derby or Oaks winner, or if one of my horses will give birth to one. Horse-racing is the only sport where you have two phenomenal athletes working together in tandem to achieve success. I am honored to be in the horse-business all these years and be a part of the Florida-bred program!” Ropes adds.

Return to the Feb. 27 issue of Wire to Wire