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Ty Kennedy / What Up Dude / Hugh Robertson

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois – There’s a Kennedy residing at Arlington this summer.

No, not part of the East Coast clan of politicians and other power centers. This Kennedy comes from Kansas and goes by Ty, and he is making his mark inhabiting the Chicago circuit for the first time.

Entering the June 14 program Kennedy from 78 mounts had ridden 13 winners, the fifth-highest total in the local jockey colony. The four riders ahead in the standings are Jose Valdivia Jr. (28), Mitchell Murrill (21), Carlos Marquez Jr. (19), and Julio Felix (16), all established on the circuit. Kennedy and Murrill share the same agent, Tim Hanisch, and are friends, and it was in part because of Murrill’s encouragement this winter and spring at Fair Grounds in New Orleans that Kennedy decided to hang his tack at Arlington.

“Mitchell is a good buddy of mine,” said Kennedy, who turns 25 in July. “He can’t ride all of them and even some of his seconds are live mounts. Tim is keeping us both busy.”

Kennedy began his professional riding career somewhat late, at age 20, after fulfilling a promise to his mother to give college a try. He attended a community college and Kansas State University before deciding to follow his dream and become a jockey. The Kennedys have farmland around Hiawatha, Kansas, which is pinned onto the northeast corner of the state, a hop, skip, and jump from Nebraska and Missouri. Kennedy grew up around cattle and crops more than horses, but his mother’s side of the family rode, trained, and raced Quarter Horses around Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Kennedy’s maternal grandmother, a pioneer given the era, for a time rode races at bush tracks in the area.

“When I was a kid, I was always asking her what it was like to be a jockey,” Kennedy said. “She was a very big influence on me wanting to be a rider. She was a tough old bird.”

At home, Kennedy rode ranch ponies and went on cattle drives, and it wasn’t until he was a teenager that he began spending time with the parts of the family devoted to racing, “breaking babies and learning to ride racehorses instead of ranch horses,” he said. Kennedy spent time at the Michigan farm of the trainer Richard Rettele getting more equine education before stepping aside for college. In 2014, he got a jockey’s license and began riding at Remington Park in Oklahoma, winning only one race his first calendar year in the saddle. While still an apprentice he moved his tack to Southern California getting a taste of the big time and guidance from the likes of Hall of Fame jockeys Gary Stevens and Mike Smith. Kennedy said jockey Tyler Baze took a special interest in teaching Kennedy the ropes, and when Kennedy returned to the heart of the country and began riding as a journeyman, he had a solid footing from which to develop.

Kennedy has increased his win total and purse earnings every year of his career and is on track to do the same thing in 2019. He rode 23 winners this past season at the tough Fair Grounds meet, also introducing himself to Chicago-based outfits that have helped support his move here this summer. Kennedy’s girlfriend, Tierney Reiste, is an assistant trainer for Chris Hartman, who for the first time opened an Arlington string this summer, and the timing and circumstances were right for Kennedy to try something new.

“I’m just glad we got off to a good start and have some momentum,” he said.

What’s Up Dude thrives for Cristel

No one could’ve been happier for the start of Arlington than trainer Mark Cristel.

Generally, sure, but specifically, the move on the Chicago circuit from dirt at Hawthorne to Polytrack at Arlington.

Cristel and owner Danalisa Racing claimed What’s Up Dude in May 2018 for $20,000 from trainer Larry Rivelli, got three seconds and a win out of the horse here last summer in allowance races, and then watched What’s Up Dude struggle last fall and winter at Hawthorne.

The Dude excels over Arlington’s Polytrack but cannot abide dirt. Cristel gave him one more shot on it in April at Hawthorne and while What’s Up Dude ran his usual lackluster race there, the comeback run following a winter break set him up for the synthetic surface on the other side of Chicagoland that he absolutely loves.

Cristel and Danalisa aimed high, running Illinois-bred What’s Up Dude on May 11 in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin Cup and were rewarded with a second-place finish. Two weeks later, cutting back to a sprint from a one-turn mile, What’s Up Dude got up late to win an allowance race, and he is back in action Sunday as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the featured sixth race, an second-level allowance with a $50,000 claiming option. What’s Up Dude is 5-5-2 from 14 Arlington Polytrack starts and can pad those stats this weekend.

“He just doesn’t have the same kick on dirt, but we were pointing to that race, the Hanshin Cup, since the winter,” said Cristel.

What’s Up Dude is a 5-year-old gelding by First Dude and out of the Lit de Justice mare, Rooney Doodle, and the mare is a minor star. Five of her six foals to race have six-figure bankrolls and two of them, Dugout and Jean Elizabeth (both trained by Rivelli) are stakes-winners.  

It was a deft claim by Cristel who, by this point, ought to have some command of his profession. Cristel, 67, is a native of the St. Louis area and began training down state in 1974. He first stabled at Arlington in 1991, dabbled in Indiana racing for a few years, but now keeps small strings both at Arlington and Belterra Park in Ohio over the summer. Cristel as recently as 2017 had 75 starts during an Arlington meet but now has only four stalls occupied.

Fortunately, What’s Up Dude lives in one of them.

Robertson stars gearing up

Hotshot Anna, the best older female synthetic-surface sprinter in North America during 2018, is gearing up for her 2019 debut. She’s working at Arlington for trainer Hugh Robertson and will make her first start of the season at Arlington in the Chicago Handicap on June 29.

Robertson isn’t entirely happy about the situation, either. He’d hoped to start Hotshot Anna in an allowance race to prepare her for the Chicago Handicap but wasn’t able to make that plan work. Instead, Hotshot Anna will head straight into a graded-stakes race for her first start since Sept. 17.

“It’s a lot to ask,” Robertson said.

Hotshot Anna will be racing for the first time since she spooked while getting a bath early this past winter at Fair Grounds, toppled over on the pavement outside Robertson’s barn, and fractured her withers. The injury never really seemed to much bother Hotshot Anna, who healed at the track with plenty of stall rest and walking. Now it’s back into the fray for a mare Robertson owns himself who came to life in the 2018 Chicago Handicap. That was her first start on a synthetic surface and Hotshot Anna won by almost six lengths, going on to capture the $100,000 Satin ‘N’ Lace and the $400,000 Presque Isle Masters, both over the Tapeta Footings surface at Presque Isle Downs.

Hotshot Anna in terms of fitness is well ahead of Wynn Time, the standout Illinois-bred sprinter, who last saw action winning the Duncan Kenner Stakes on Jan. 19 at Fair Grounds. Wynn Time, by Robertson’s stallion Three Hour Nap and out of the good producer Five Star Swank, went three for three at the Fair Grounds meet, all in stakes, and is 8-2-1 from his 11 career starts. He’s back training again with Robertson, who said this week he has no specific target for the horse. Just glad to have him back.