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Hugh Robertson, Two Emmys / Chris Davis, Naval Laughter

Thursday at Arlington, veteran trainer Hugh Robertson ran one-two in a maiden-special weight race. Silver Cloud, the winner, cost $28,000 at auction, runner-up Lets Cruise $40,000. Those are pretty big numbers by Robertson’s standards. Almost seems like the less Robertson spends on a horse at auction, the more likely the horse is to make a lot of money on the racetrack. Robertson picks out sires that have fallen from commercial favor when he starts looking through auction catalogues. While the crowds and the swells are looking at one set of fancy horses, Robertson keeps his eyes on the lowlier lots. If a yearling is skinny and smallish and by a stallion out of fashion, that could be a horse Robertson targets. Bet Seattle exemplifies the practice. By Seattle Fitz (nope – not a household name), Bet Seattle cost about the same as a slick set of new tires, $1,500, and went on to earn more than $400,000.

Now comes Two Emmys. Robertson got him for $4,500 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2017. Two Emmys is by English Channel, a perfectly serviceable sire, but one whose progeny usually want to run long on grass and who generally take some time to develop – like Two Emmys. Now a 5-year-old, Two Emmys, who has earned $166,508, is just coming into himself. For the second season in a row, he had a good winter in New Orleans, this year winning a second-level allowance race and finishing second in the Muniz Memorial to Colonel Liam, at the time the best grass horse in North America. Robertson scratched him from a race at Canterbury Park last month when heavy rain forced a move from turf to dirt, but Two Emmys is set to run at Arlington on Saturday in the second race. It’s a solid group of allowance horses going 1 1/16 miles on grass, but Two Emmys is the best of them, though Robertson is using this race as a stepping-stone to the Arlington Stakes in July. And who knows -- if Two Emmys keeps improving, perhaps the Mr. D Stakes, formerly the Arlington Million, could come into play.

Saturday’s race will be Two Emmys first in more than three months, but he’s ready to run. “He’s a good work horse, not crazy fast, but solid half-miles in 49,” Robertson said. “He’s a tiny little horse, so he doesn’t need all that much training.” How tiny? About 15 hands 2, Robertson guessed, which is pretty small. “He probably doesn’t even weigh 1,000 pounds. But then I’ve never had a good big horse – except Three Hour Nap. Polar Expedition was small, Hotshot Anna was small. It’s easier to keep a small horse sound. Big old heavy horses are harder to keep together.”

Three Hour Nap, for the uninitiated, was a foal of 2002 who won the Arlington-Washington Futurity as a 2-year-old and the National Jockey Club at Sportsman’s Park as an older horse, earning nearly $444,000, a good return on his $68,000 purchase price. Polar Expedition was Robertson’s first real hit, an Illinois-bred foaled in 1991 who briefly got on the Triple Crown trail and wound up with almost $1.5 million in earnings. No auction price here – Polar was bred and owned by James Cody. Hotshot Anna just was retired in 2020. She cost $20,000 at auction and for a couple years was as good as any filly or mare in North America sprinting on synthetic surfaces. Two years in a row she won the rich Presque Isle Masters, finishing up just shy of a million dollars in earnings.

Robertson has five wins already this Arlington season but, owing to the difficulty horsemen have found getting into the track during the afternoon, rarely goes racing any longer. His Arlington morning routine hasn’t changed. Five mornings a week, Robertson send his sets over to Arlington’s little, irregularly shaped dirt training track. Mondays and Thursdays, when the training track is closed, are workout days and gate-schooling day up at the Arlington main track. A questioner wondered if smaller horses didn’t prosper in the Robertson barn because he leans so heavily on the training track, where the turns reward athleticism and shiftiness. Now Robertson got rolling. “Polar Expedition, no one could have beaten him on that track – or any little track. But there aren’t many real bull rings left anymore.” The questioner mentioned Delta Downs, Charles Town, which have five-furlong ovals. Not true bull rings, according to Robertson, born and raised in Nebraska. “Growing up in Nebraska, a half-mile, that was a bull ring. Madison Downs, in Madison, Nebraska, they had a bull ring. That was where I had my first starter, after I got my license, in 1971. They called it ‘Little Saratoga,’ a real nice town, about 2,500 people. Had a two-week race meet. A beautiful place. The jocks would go out and sit with the crowd. I ran four horses, three of them won and I ran a second. I guess it kind of put me in the spotlight. I lived in the back of my car at Madison.”

From Madison, Robertson went on to Atokad Park. Recall that Nebraska tracks were places spelled backward. Ak-Sar-Ben – Nebraska. Atokad – Dakota. “Atokad, that was in south Sioux City. There, we lived at the Pink Elephant Hotel. It was a bar with sleeping rooms behind it, $3 a night. An Indian bar – pretty rough. We didn’t go to the bar, just straight to the room.”

You start off talking to Hugh Robertson about the good horse he has in Saturday at Arlington and have no idea where you might end up. But it’ll be fun.

Naval Laughter

“Nineteen” was Naval Laughter’s magic number. The 4-year-old filly didn’t race for 19 months between her career debut in November 2019 and the third race June 3 at Arlington, which she won by a remarkable 19 ¾ lengths. It wasn’t just the vast margin between Naval Laughter and the second-place finishers, but the fact she had only about a five-length lead with less than a quarter mile left, and ran in a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race that ended at the sixteenth pole.

“If the finish is the regular wire, she wins by 30,” said trainer Chris Davis. “She’d been training lights-out on the Poly, but did I think she was going to do that? Hell, no.”

Naval Laughter got a 96 Beyer Speed Figure, a stakes-class number from a filly who’d been a decent third in her only other start and hadn’t raced in forever. Davis said Naval Laughter had suffered a tendon injury after her first start; her breeder, Tony Braddock, who breeds and races as Two Hearts Farm, had sold her at auction but bought her back.

“Just gave her lots and lots of time. That’s an owner who is great for the game,” Davis said.

Davis wants to try Naval Laughter in a turf allowance race. No one will be expecting another 20 length win.