Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: The ‘Serious’ 2-Year-Old From Canterbury Park?

It’s a good thing racehorses can’t read the program.

When 2-year-old filly Amy’s Challenge walks into Keeneland‘s paddock next weekend, she won’t have seen the high-priced, fashionable pedigrees of her competitors, nor will she have seen the prestigious names of some of the country’s top owners and trainers.

She’ll just know she’s there to run.

The daughter of Artie Schiller is the fastest 2-year-old in the country right now, having earned the highest Beyer speed figure of any juvenile Thoroughbred. She posted a 91 when breaking her maiden by 16 ½ lengths, and improved that figure to a 92 with a stakes win over males in her second career start.

What’s unusual is that both of those races were held at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park.

What’s more, she came with a price tag of just $20,000.

Trainer McLean “Mac” Robertson was breezing through the Fasig-Tipton sales catalog before the 2016 Kentucky Fall yearling sale and came to a stop on the page for Hip 51. The filly would likely fit his clients’ budget, he thought, and he saw potential despite the lack of bold type in her first three female generations.

“We were just looking for horses that could run a distance of ground,” said Robertson, 43. “Her mother won all three of her starts, and won over two turns, so anytime you see that you like it. With so many nice horses at the Fasig-Tipton sale, some horses get overlooked.”

Her dam Jump Up (Jump Start – Susie Joe’s, by Bertrando) was a homebred for Edmond and Sharon Hudond’s Sierra Farm, a small farm in Central Kentucky. The mare, trained by Eddie Kenneally, won all three starts at the allowance level over distances of six furlongs, a one-turn mile, and 1 1/16 miles, earning $85,800.

Both the filly’s second and third dam produced winners, and her fourth dam, Lady Argyle (Don B.), produced a pair of graded stakes winners. Her daughter Queenie Belle (Bertrando) in turn produced millionaire and Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic champion Unrivaled Belle (Unbridled’s Song).

Amy’s Challenge as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton sale

Bred by the Hudonds along the same lines as Unrivaled Belle via Bertrando, winner of the Woodward and Pacific Classic, Amy’s Challenge quietly hinted at potential as a yearling. Nearly a year later, owners Amy and Joe Novogratz have reportedly received offers for the filly north of $1 million.

“I think this filly will be a serious horse, though whether it’s this year or next year, I don’t know,” Robertson said. “I’m just so happy for the owners because they haven’t had a serious horse like this in their own name before.”

In the Sept. 16 Shakopee Juvenile Stakes at Canterbury, Amy’s Challenge was up against another fast colt in Mr. Jagermeister. He had broken his maiden in a similar dominating fashion, by 11 ½ lengths, and his only defeat had come against The Tabulator, who went on to win the G3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Ridden by Jareth Loveberry, Amy’s Challenge broke on top of the field and galloped along on the lead, twisting her ears back and forth as if she were just enjoying the breeze. After fractions of :21.95 and :44.48, Mr. Jagermeister came rolling up on her outside.

Her male challenger put his head in front at the top of the lane, lugging in toward her a bit and making the spot at the rail extremely tight. Amy’s Challenge was undaunted, but perhaps appearing a bit surprised to have been passed. The filly dropped her head and dug in gamely, showing an impressive maturity in her second start to battle back for a ¾-length victory.

“I heard the other horse coming and he got a head on us,” said Loveberry. “Then she dug in and kept digging and digging.”

The final time for six furlongs, 1:09.58, was the best of the day, faster than the older male sprinters who ran on the same card.

“She’s run really fast two times just sprinting,” Robertson said. “I think she can run two turns, but until they prove it everybody thinks that. But look, she’s run fast and she’s done it the right way. She’s done it comfortably, finishing strong and galloping out well.

“She’s a big, strong, good-moving horse. She doesn’t gallop like a sprinter, but she certainly runs fast. Watching her train in the morning, she looks like she can get two turns, but obviously when they’re that fast you always question how far they’re going to run. But I feel she will.”

Amy’s Challenge will have a chance to validate her trainer’s confidence in one of the upcoming “Win and You’re In” races at Keeneland. Robertson expects her to have a work over the Lexington racetrack Sunday or Monday.

As far as which race he’ll choose for Amy’s Challenge, Robertson isn’t yet sure. It could be the Oct. 6 Alcibiades for fillies over 1 1/16, but she is also nominated for the Oct. 7 Breeders’ Futurity against males at the same distance. A third option could be the Oct. 11 Jessamine Stakes for fillies over two turns on the grass, a surface the filly has never tried but is bred to appreciate. The Jessamine would also give her an extra week between races.

“It depends on who runs where and who does what,” Robertson explained. “These other trainers, they’ve got several good 2-year-olds so they may have to split them up in different races. I’ve only got the one, so I’d like to just run her in the easiest spot.”

Though Robertson attempted to contain his excitement about the filly’s chances, the 11-time leading trainer at Canterbury could be looking at the best horse of his career. In over 1150 victories, Robertson has conditioned only two graded stakes winners so far: Rebel and Oaklawn Handicap-winning millionaire Win Willy and Grade 3 winner Bryan’s Jewel.

Robertson won nine consecutive training titles at Canterbury

“When you travel and it’s a different place, there’s a different electricity,” the trained said, keeping his expectations realistic. “I’m a little worried about the first day (of Keeneland’s meet), because you can’t really duplicate that. She handles things fairly well, but she’s a 2-year-old filly. I don’t have any reason to think she won’t handle it, but I’m not foolish enough to think that if she sees a big crowd she won’t unravel a little.”

The son of Chicago-based trainer Hugh Robertson, “Mac” grew up working on his parent’s Pennsylvania farm. By age 12, he was assisting his father at the track. He tried college at the University of Nebraska but the call of the racetrack was just too strong. Though he obtained his first trainer’s license in 1994, the younger Robertson took over a string for his father until going out on his own in 2004.

In 2005, Robertson first crested $1 million in earnings. That was the same year he took down his first training title at Canterbury.

“Most people and horses started from nowhere, and they forgot that,” he said with a laugh. “You gotta go in every day and know that there’s someone out there willing to work harder than you are… There’s always a new guy coming up who may be better or smarter or have faster horses, but you can always work hard.”

The 2005 Canterbury honor was the first of nine straight training titles at the Minnesota track. He was inducted into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame in 2011 and is the all-time leader in purse earnings.

“It’s a grueling sport, but it’s a wonderful sport,” said Robertson. “It’s a lot of hard work. You’re tired a lot, you fight with your wife a lot, you just give everything to the game and hope you do well enough to stay in it. It’s easy to give up and throw in the towel and have excuses.

“But then, if you love your horses, its easy.”

In 2017, Robertson has been winning at a 24 percent clip, finished in the money over 56 percent of the time, and led the Canterbury meet for an 11th time over the summer. He’ll be based at Delaware Park for the remainder of the year and then head to Oaklawn Park for the early 2018 season.

To describe his success at Canterbury, Robertson first credits his owners for their patience and their willingness to let him place horses in the best possible spots.

“Basically I’ve had faster horses than the next guy here, and I’ve had owners that have stuck around for more than a year or two at a time,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to train for owners with decent horses who want to be more than just competitive, and they let me enter them where they can win.”

The trainer also credits his long-time staff.

“Obviously winning is a skill, but it’s the culture you put the horses in. If they crew is happy and the horses are happy, it’s a winning culture,” Robertson said. “I’ve been fortunate to have basically 15 of the same grooms for 15 years, and basically the same four or five exercise riders that really care. These are guys that get it, that you have to ice horses and you gotta take them out for grass and really put time into them every single day. It’s a lot harder to keep your crew happy than to keep your horses happy.”

It’s been said that a good horse can come from anywhere, and for Robertson, Amy’s Challenge represents the potential for big new adventures like the Breeders’ Cup. The trainer doesn’t plan to let the excitement change his day-to-day routine, though.

“I still feed my own horses in the mornings, and I like it.”


The Robertson racing team

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: The ‘Serious’ 2-Year-Old From Canterbury Park? appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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