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Meet Trainer Hugh Robertson!
Meet Trainer Hugh Robertson!
By M. Scott McMannis
Trainer Hugh Robertson has a quiet demeanor that belies his original career objective of lawyer. Though perhaps slow to get to know, one learns that Robertson will open up once comfortable and then share meaningful insights.
The 55-year-old Robertson grew up on a farm near Schuyler (pronounced Sky-ler), Nebraska. His family had horses, although not Thoroughbreds. Upon graduation from Schuyler High School, Robertson attended the University of Nebraska.
"I was in pre-law," revealed Robertson. "One year I decided to take a semester off to work at Fonner Park Racetrack. I never went back. "I worked for a trainer by the name of Robert E. Lee for a year, and learned a lot from him," acknowledged Robertson. "He's still training horses."
In 1971 Robertson took out his trainer's license.
"I campaigned around the Nebraska circuit for five years," he explained. "It was Fonner, Lincoln, Columbus, and the long-gone Ak-Sar-Ben. "In 1976 we relocated to Pennsylvania," Robertson continued. "Penn National raced essentially year-'round and it was easy to ship to surrounding states to run. Plus, my wife, Theresa, now of 34 years, and I had our family underway and that was a great location to settle and raise a family," said Robertson. "We stayed there 10 years."
Next stop: Chicago, 1986. Like Pennsylvania, Chicago offers horseracing essentially all year. Adding to its lure for someone campaigning at Penn National was Chicago's better purses.
"We've been based here ever since," summarized Robertson. "We have shipped some horses to other meets on occasion but now I stay here and my son, MacLean, will take a string to other tracks."
Son MacLean Robertson is the only Robertson offspring to follow his father into horseracing. Son Gabe is an environmental analyst for the Nebraska Department of Roads and daughter Kate teaches at Creighton University in Omaha.
In addition to developing three children, Robertson has developed a number of horses of note. Current fans will recognize the name Silver Zipper who was bought for just $10,000 as a yearling.
"He sure made many multiples of that," offered Robertson.
Add to the list Three Hour Nap and Celluloid Hero. And cap the list with Polar Expedition. Robertson's smile widens at the mention of Polar Expedition.
"Polar was exceptional, still is," stated Robertson. "He won stake races six years in a row and earned $1.49 million in his career. Polar retired as the richest Illinois-bred, and is still number two on that list to Buck's Boy."
Buck's Boy made a huge addition to his lifetime earnings by winning a Breeders' Cup turf race. Polar Expedition beat Buck's Boy on the main track at Sportsman's Park.
"Polar is now retired and lives on a farm west of Chicago," Robertson concluded. "He's very well mannered there but when I brought him back to the track with the intention of making him my pony to ride to the track in the morning, he was too interested in becoming a racehorse once more."
To sophisticated handicappers with good trainer pattern data, Robertson has been known as excellent with first starters.
"I'm changing my approach on that," Robertson offered. "Getting a first starter ready to win at first asking takes more than getting them simply ready to run at first asking. It requires working them in company to bring out and reinforce the desire to win and getting them used to dirt in the face. All that takes longer. Lately I've been content to simply get a good effort out of them first time out."
Robertson has adjusted, we must, too.