Kirk Robison Talks 'Horse of a Lifetime' Jackie's Warrior On Writers' Room


Jackie's Warrior | Sarah Andrew


Having been involved in horse racing for decades, Kirk Robison knows how much luck plays a part in finding success. He admits as much. But perseverance also pays, and Robison has finally seen the fruits of his labor pay off at the highest level of the game, as his undefeated Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music) is set to head into the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile as a heavy favorite, with a chance to solidify a divisional championship to boot.

Wednesday morning, Robison joined the TDN Writers' Room presented by Keeneland as the Green Group Guest of the Week to discuss his emerging superstar, the breaking news of his deal with Spendthrift for the colt's breeding rights and what it means to have a potential Breeders' Cup or GI Kentucky Derby winner after all these years supporting the game he loves.

Already with runaway victories in the GII Saratoga Special S. and GI Runhappy Hopeful S., Jackie's Warrior added a devastatingly easy 5 1/2-length victory in the GI Champagne S. Saturday at Belmont.

“I read that they've run the Champagne since 1867, and I appreciate the fact there's a lot of horses that were in there that are in the history books,” Robison said. To win that race is just incredible. First Landing and Dehere were the only 2-year-olds in the last 60 years that swept the Saratoga Special, Hopeful and Champagne. And now our colt did it. So putting it in that perspective, I appreciate every one of these races.”

The score earned a 100 Beyer, giving the bay clearly the two top figures of all 2-year-olds this year, and stamped him as a clear Juvy favorite. Robison said that while he's taking nothing for granted, he likes Jackie's Warrior's chances to run his record to five-for-five.

“He hasn't gone two turns yet. He hasn't run at Keeneland. That other colt [GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity hero Essential Quality] already won a two-turn race there at the distance, so that's a huge advantage for him, but our numbers, if he can carry that speed around two turns, our colt's going to be very, very hard to beat,” he said. “The numbers don't lie. And I watched the replays of the Hopeful and Champagne a number of times–he's just a blur out there. I never dreamed I'd have a Breeders' Cup Juvenile favorite, now we've got to go out and do it. But I'm extremely confident.”

News broke Wednesday morning that Robison made a deal with Spendthrift Farm to stand Jackie's Warrior at the top-flight stallion outfit after closing out his racing career.

“They wanted to buy a part of the horse early on, after he won the Special. And I said, I'm going to wait until maybe he wins the Hopeful,” he recalled. “I wanted to control his racing career, and I got that. They agreed to that. So Steve Asmussen and I are going to manage the horse until he's retired. I get all the purse money during his racing career. I've got some bonus structure in there from Spendthrift. At the end of his racing career, he goes to them and they manage the stud career.”

Asked how early he knew his colt was a runner, Robison reflected on a conversation he had with a different Asmussen as the horse was being broken at the family's Laredo, Texas training center.

“I talk to Keith once in a while about how they're doing,” he said. “He doesn't get too ahead of the curve on who's running well because he doesn't do much with them as far as asking for speed. But I told him early on, like February or March, 'I want to win the Hopeful someday with a 2-year-old.' He actually said, 'This might be your colt.'”

While Robison can't help but dream about winning the Derby, he's realistic about his colt's potential distance limitations. Sire Maclean's Music is more of a sprint influence, and his dam never won beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, so while Robison would love to win the Derby, he's only interested in running with a top chance.

“You can't not think about it, but I think I'm pretty good about measuring and managing my expectations,” he said. “His mother was a pure stone cold sprinter. So to even get a mile or a mile and a sixteenth could be the upper limits of where this horse goes. If we could be lucky enough to win a Breeders' Cup Juvenile or Breeders' Cup Sprint later on, it'd be satisfying. I only want to go to the Derby with a horse that can run one, two, three. I don't want to be 20-1 and run up the track.”

Robison reflected on when he and Asmussen bought Jackie's Warrior for the bargain price of $95,000 at Keeneland September, and spoke about how that elusive force of luck shined on him with a horse who's done everything right since the hammer dropped.

“Steve called him an old soul,” Robison said. “He's like a 6-year-old gelding. He takes everything in. He's easy on himself. He looks around the paddock like, 'OK, got to go to work.' He's a very smart horse. Takes care of himself and doesn't get too worked up and use up all of his energy. So he's the horse of a lifetime for a guy like me. Other people may have multiple Grade I winners, I don't. And he may be the last one I ever have. How much can you say about luck in this business? A lot of people were not willing to pay 100,000 for this horse. So they stopped at 95 and Steve got him. If this horse had gone to 150 or 200, we might not even own the horse. So I'm extremely grateful for what we have. When you get one, you have to say, 'Thank my lucky stars, I got one.'”

Elsewhere on the show, in the West Point Thoroughbreds news segment, the writers paid tribute to the great Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}), who was retired from racing this week after an illustrious career. Plus they broke down the Ken McPeek vs. Matt Muzikar beef that stemmed from last week's podcast and celebrated the Grade I success of the show's unofficial mascot, Harvey's Lil Goil (American Pharoah). Click here to watch the podcast; click here for the audio-only version.

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