A catalog page for Don Robinson would read like that of one of the blue-blooded Thoroughbreds his Winter Quarter Farm has become known for. His grandmother Mrs. Silas B. Mason operated a farm in Lexington named Duntreath in the 1920s, racing colts like Santa Anita Derby winner He Did — famous for side-swiping Seabiscuit at the start of the 1938 Santa Anita Handicap (won by Stagehand) — and 1933 Preakness winner Head Play, one-half of the infamous stretch duel featuring fighting jockeys in that year's Kentucky Derby (won by Brokers Tip).
Mason's son, H. Burnett Robinson, led a mounted beach patrol for the Coast Guard during World War II, searching out German U-boats. He developed an interest in racing surfaces and eventually was hired to resurface the main track and design and build the training track at Keeneland Racecourse. H. Burnett Robinson purchased the Fayette County property on which Winter Quarter Farm now sits in 1948; one of the first mares on the farm was his mother's Maidofduntreath, a daughter of Man o' War who produced stakes-placed Maid of Flight, dam of five-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Kelso.
Don Robinson, 69, was born the year his father purchased Winter Quarter Farm. Drawn to the West, he learned from trainers like Charlie Whittingham and Buddy Hirsch, then got married and milked cows in northern California for a number of years. Robinson returned to Kentucky with son Ferran when his father developed Lou Gehrig's disease in 1977.
“I am an incredibly lucky man,” Robinson said. “To live a life on the farm, day in and day out, you have to absolutely love it, and I definitely do.”
It was Robinson's inherently personable nature that led to a number of successful client relationships in the years to come. Among the names of top horses raised at Winter Quarter are Golden Pheasant (G1 Arlington Million, Japan Cup), Star of Cozzene (G1 Man o' War, Arlington Million), Matty G. (G1 Hollywood Futurity), and Vicar (G1 Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth).
Perhaps one of the brightest relationships Robinson ever developed was that with Eric Kronfeld. Kronfeld, under the name Maverick Productions, had been foaling out his mares in Pennsylvania every year before sending them back to Kentucky to grow up. In the mid-1980's, Kronfeld decided to keep them in Kentucky year-round, and a group of five or six came to live at Winter Quarter Farm.
“He was the most astute man on the telephone I'd ever known,” Robinson said of Kronfeld, adding that he didn't even meet the owner in person until three years after he started boarding the mares. “At the sales, he knew at least three other people who'd already looked at the horse you were talking about. In terms of matings, he was very bright; he would make his own decisions, then ask my opinion, weighing it against other opinions.”
For the Flag was one of those original mares. In the twilight season of her broodmare career when moved to Kentucky, Kronfeld decided to send her to Kris S. for a shot at the Roberto line; the resulting filly, Vertigineux, was so large she did not meet her reserve at the Keeneland September sale, so Kronfeld kept her to race. Despite displaying immense talent, the filly's size was detrimental to her ankles and she had to be retired after nine starts.
Vertigineux's first foal Where's Bailey (Aljabr) became a stakes winner on the grass at three. Her second foal from a mating with Thunder Gulch brought $260,000 as a yearling; Balance would go on to become a three-time Grade 1 winner. The next mating was scheduled with Street Cry, and though the resulting filly, quite tall and immature as a yearling, only brought $60,000 at Keeneland, she would become one of the greatest racemares of all time. Zenyatta remains the only mare to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, and won 19 of her 20 starts to earn more than $7.3 million.
“I told my son, Farren, that I felt kind of sorry for him,” joked Robinson. “There will never be another one like Zenyatta, not in my lifetime or his.”
A fourth daughter of Vertigineux, Eblouissante, Kronfeld retained to race. She broke her maiden and won a first-level allowance, but was unable to score the black-type of her siblings. Nonetheless, when Kronfeld died in 2013 and his stock had to be dispersed, Eblouissante brought $2.1 million in the Keeneland November sale.
“Eric was a curmudgeon and a great person all rolled into one,” Robinson told bloodhorse.com after Kronfeld's death. “He was very generous and a really good guy underneath the bluster. Zenyatta is a for-lifetime horse, and she came about all because of Eric. She was exciting for the whole world, and still is. He was both insurmountable and irreplaceable.”
Today, Winter Quarter Farm stands at just under 400 acres, and Robinson maintains approximately 30 broodmares for a select clientele. A high-quality boarding facility and sales consignor, it isn't often that Robinson races a horse of his own. From 2000, he has only had 33 starts, with a record of 9-4-7 which includes multiple graded stakes victories.
The most recent of those came with homebred Cambodia on the Preakness undercard, when the 5-year-old daughter of War Front captured the G3 Gallorette for her first graded score. Like so many others at Winter Quarter, however, Cambodia's story starts back in the 1980s with a “high-level blue collar family.”
“I've known this family for a long, long time,” said Robinson. “I'm familiar with the entire catalog page. They may not always be the flashiest and they don't always sell particularly well, but they consistently get black-type up and down the page.”
Gaye Richardson owned a multiple stakes-winning mare named Lonely Beach, the foundation of that family. She boarded at Winter Quarter, and her 1995 daughter by Known Fact, named Lonely Fact, became a multiple stakes winner. Robinson bought into the mare in the late 1990s, and Lonely Beach's 1999 daughter Boogie Beach Blues, while unraced, produced Storm Treasure for Robinson, who earned multiple graded stakes placings and more than $700,000.
Lonely Fact, herself, produced four stakes winners, including South African champion Overarching, bred by Robinson in a partnership. Robinson bred the mare Sassifaction out of Lonely Fact, who won three races under the banner of Winter Quarter Farm.
“We always liked her a lot, but she kept getting in her own way,” Robinson recalled.
From Sassifaction, whom Kronfeld bought into after her retirement, Robinson partnered with his client to breed Cambodia. When mating Sassifaction with War Front, Robinson got in on the hot sire early, in 2011, when his fee was a modest $15,000.
“I couldn't afford him today,” Robinson laughed, noting that the stallion now stands for $250,000. “I bred to War Front back then because of Danzig.”
When Kronfeld passed in 2013, he gifted the filly Cambodia to Robinson. She did not vet cleanly as a yearling, so Robinson decided not to send her to Keeneland. Instead he partnered with childhood friend Alan Schubert, a long-time handicapper, to race the filly.
“I told him I had a filly who had a chance to be good, but she was kind of iffy,” Robinson said. “I can't even remember now why she didn't vet because it's never caused her a single problem in training.”
It took some time for Cambodia to come into her own; she didn't break her maiden until December of her 3-year-old season. Tom Proctor was patient with the filly, having been the trainer of several other members of her female family. After that first win, Cambodia fired off two straight victories, then finished third in a trio of stakes efforts. Proctor pointed her to the G3 Gallorette, and she rewarded the connections with a two-length victory last Saturday.
“The best part about Cambodia is sharing the racing experience with Alan, because he realizes just how lucky we are,” Robinson said, adding that he and Schubert rarely miss one of their filly's races. “But, as much as I enjoy the racing, there is absolutely nothing as rewarding as raising a good horse on the farm. It's the ultimate goal, and to have been involved with Zenyatta… it's just been an incredible journey.”
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