Keeneland presents American Graded Stakes Standings: Robsham Breeds, Cares for Its Own
It’s been several years since E. Paul Robsham Stables has plunked down money to buy a racehorse prospect at a commercial sale. But a glance at the American Graded Stakes Standings reveals the operation, run by Joyce Robsham in honor of her late husband, is doing just fine using the more traditional approach of breeding to race. Robsham is at or near the top of both the owner and breeder categories – with only 15 runners in the barn currently.
Last weekend, the Robsham-owned and bred mare Awesome Maria padded her resume with a seventh career graded stakes victory – her sixth in a row. Robsham’s Travelin Man also improved to two-for-two this year with a win in Saturday’s non-graded Sir Shackleton Handicap at Gulfstream Park. So far in 2012, Robsham has won a sizzling 14 of 25 starts, earning nearly $850,000. The stable is on pace to easily eclipse last year’s impressive numbers of 25 wins in 81 starts for $1.6 million in earnings.
The stable’s strike rate has increased since a paring down of the roster and a shift toward homebreds only. Between 2007 and 2009, when Robsham had well over 100 starts a year, the stable’s win rate was 15%. From 2010 until now, with no more than 81 starts a year, Robsham is firing at 27%. Every one of the runners currently in the stable was bred by Joyce Robsham.
“Most of the horses they were breeding were running better than the ones they were buying,” said Anna Ford, who’s been the stable manager since 2010. “The number of starts has gone down, and that’s been on purpose to focus more on quality than quantity. We have such a good group of broodmares that, God willing, they’ll keep producing fantastic foals, and we won’t have to go to the sales.”
Ford said Robsham tries to keep its broodmare band at a “manageable” 15. In addition to breeding to top Kentucky stallions, Robsham has also developed a partnership with Ocala Stud in Florida. Trippi, who now stands in South Africa, was a go-to Ocala stallion for Robsham, producing the likes of Travelin Man, R Heat Lightning and R Holiday Mood, who won the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie in February.
Ford said the focus on breeding to race makes a difference in choosing a stallion.
“We might not always go commercial,” she said. “We’re looking for sires that will produce good racehorses. We’re not going to sell them. Ocala Stud’s stallions were, in general, tough racehorses. Consistent. Trippi’s a good example.”
Trippi won half his starts and hit the board in 10 out of 14. Last year, Trippi produced 124 winners from 210 runners in the Northern Hemisphere.
Robsham’s approach is also marked by its commitment to each individual horse, from the time they are born to their retirement and beyond. The stable does not run in claiming races. If a horse can’t make it in stakes or allowance company, they will either be retired for breeding purposes or go through the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program. The Robshams were founding partners of New Vocations, and Ford is the group’s program director.
“The Robshams didn’t get into this business to make money,” Ford said. “They could’ve made money in claiming races, but they want to take care of the horses, first and foremost. The ones that aren’t phenomenal racehorses can still be great show horses or have other careers. It really comes full circle.”
Robsham’s recent success has also coincided with the hiring of trainer Todd Pletcher, which Ford says was a perfect fit for the stable’s philosophy.
“Despite the number of horses he has, Todd looks at each one as an individual,” Ford said. “He touches every single horse in his barn, which is unbelievable to me. He puts his hand on every one of them.”
With its group of 15 runners and a dozen 2-year-olds, Robsham could have its best year ever in 2012, after suffering key injuries last year while still producing seven graded stakes wins. Awesome Maria is poised to become the stable’s first millionaire (she has $992,375 in earnings) as she points toward a summer of racing in New York. The 4-year-old filly R Heat Lightning, so promising in her first two seasons before injury last year, is working toward a return to the races. The 3-year-old filly Broadway’s Alibi will be gunning for her fourth win in a row and second straight graded stakes victory in Saturday’s Grade 3 Comely Stakes on the Wood Memorial undercard.
Ford said the 2-year-olds include a full sister to Discreet Dancer, a “really nice Tapit,” and a half-brother to R Heat Lightning.
When asked about Awesome Maria’s future beyond this year, Ford’s response seemed to exemplify what Robsham stables is all about.
“One race at a time,” Ford said. “We know that each race is a gift. As long as she’s healthy and sound, we’ll continue to race her. We’re not in any hurry to breed her. Mrs. Robsham enjoys them way more on the racetrack than she does in the breeding shed.”