MarketWatch Interview: Don Robinson

By Eric Mitchell
September 7, 2017

Don Robinson, owner of Winter Quarter Farm, has been a lifelong participant in the Thoroughbred game. The farm founded by his father has nurtured top runners such as Golden Pheasant, Star of Cozzene, Balance, Matty G., and 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta. Despite his long tenure, Robinson is experiencing this year as an entirely new thrill as the owner/breeder of his first graded stakes winner. His star, Cambodia, won three graded stakes this year, with her most recent victory in the Sept. 2 John C. Mabee Stakes (G2T) at Del Mar. She has won three of seven starts in 2017 and never finished off the board. Robinson talked with BloodHorse MarketWatch editor Eric Mitchell about Cambodia’s family and his experience as an owner.

BloodHorse MarketWatch: You have a long connection with Cambodia’s family. How did that begin?

Don Robinson: This family and I go way back. My good friend Mike Bell brought a client to me from Arizona named Gayle C.C. Stable, and they owned Lonely Beach. She was my first touch with the family, the great-grandmother. The husband died and I dispersed the horses, but I always remembered this family.

I got back to it, strangely, when Boogie Beach Blues (out of Lonely Beach) came back in the January sale as an unraced 2-year-old, having just sold for good money as a weanling ($80,000 at the 1999 Keeneland November breeding stock sale). Due to the misfortunes of the game, she had had minor surgery and ended up fracturing her pelvis while recovering from the anesthesia. Her racing career was over. So I bred her to Storm Bootand got Storm Treasure, who won over $700,000 and was an incredibly good horse.

At the same time, I always loved Lonely Fact, who was a daughter of Lonely Beach by Known Fact, who I also loved. I found out she was running for a tag, and I bought her privately for the claiming price. Lonely Fact was the mare of a lot of good stuff.

Everything out of this family runs. They are attractive though it is not a big commercial family. If it were then they would be unaffordable. The family just seemed to have ability, and I wasn’t aggressively pursuing them, but they just seemed to fall out in front of me.

BH: Do you often race your homebreds?

DR: I don’t usually but then I’ve never had a good one. I try not to waste time on a horse just because I got stuck with it. If the market really tells you it doesn’t like one, the market is not stupid and usually the first loss is the best loss, so I sell them. Over the years, I have kept some fillies and had some good ones, but I have never had one work out like this. I raced Sassifaction, Cambodia’s mother. She broke her maiden at River Downs and then won another condition at Indiana Grand (and another allowance at Ellis Park). We really liked her. She was by Smart Strike, who I bred to a lot before he got discovered, and so I had a nice mare.

Cambodia is my best, by far. I’ve never had a graded stakes winner in my own name. I’ve bred great horses for clients because that is my first order of business. I manage horses year-round and raise them for other people and dabble on the side.

BH: So how did you end up keeping Cambodia?

DR: The original plan was for her to go through a sale, and she probably would have brought good money as a yearling, but she would not have vetted. She had an OCD (osteochondritis dissecans lesion) in her stifle and in the early spring it looked compromising enough that we were concerned she might not make it off the farm. War Front  (her sire) was worth keeping. The family was worth keeping, and I liked her so I gave her time and broke her in the fall with all the others. She never had any soundness issues; never made a misstep.

After she broke her maiden on the grass at Tampa Bay Downs, I called Tom Proctor, who I had always known and had done well with Temeraine (a graded stakes winner by Arch out of Lonely Fact). He said, “I’ll take her. She’s by a pretty good sire.” He also told me don’t underestimate a maiden win on the grass at Tampa Bay. He felt she was a pretty decent horse because he and (Christophe) Clement and (Graham) Motion all take good horses over to that grass track in the winter because they like that surface.

BH: Why has Cambodia’s 5-year-old year been so strong? Any insights?

DR: If there is any secret to her, it’s that every time she had a little bit of heat or any other 2-year-old stuff we stopped and sent her back to the farm to rest. We did that repeatedly. Most horses don’t get enough time and when you look at this family, they run for a long time. I gave her at least three long spells. And I credit my friend Geoff Mulcahy at the Thoroughbred Training Center who put in long, careful miles into her and always gave her time and the right foundation. Now she’s just exploded at 5.

BH: So what’s it like racing a homebred graded stakes winner?

DR: I have not missed a race since she was with Tom Proctor, and I just have to pinch myself. It is so satisfying and amazing. It is like a dream. I have been at this for so long, and this is so unusual and respected. I am amazed.