Kentucky Derby

Lexington lawyer loving Derby opportunity with his second horse

LOUISVILLE — As an equine attorney, much of Craig Robertson's career successes are the result of extreme planning and careful research.

That's his day job. When it comes to his favorite hobby, Robertson has managed to achieve the most coveted of feats merely by guessing right.

There are some owners who never win a stakes race — which is why Robertson jokingly called his own situation "ridiculous."

The Lexington native and University of Kentucky graduate is on the Churchill Downs backstretch this week as one of the co-owners of Kentucky Derby contender Soldat, a bay son of War Front who is the second horse Robertson has ever owned.

A lifelong racing fan, Robertson made his first venture into the sport a couple of years ago when fellow lawyer and noted Thoroughbred owner Maggi Moss persuaded him to go in on one of her claiming horses.

Last summer, Robertson's friend — bloodstock agent Steve Shahinian — introduced him to owner Harvey Clarke. As the two got to talking, Robertson mentioned how much he relished his prior experience cheering on a horse of his own.

Clarke offered Robertson a chance to buy a minority interest in one of the handful of horses he had. Remarkably, the horse eventually won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and has become a top contender for the first jewel of the Triple Crown.

"I really am pinching myself every day. I mean, it's something people work their entire life for and dream about, so the opportunity to be here with just the second horse that I've ever owned is just amazing," Robertson said. "Harvey basically said, 'Pick whatever one you want, and you can buy into a piece of one of them,' and I got lucky and picked the right one.

"The only thing I was thinking about is, I'm going to do this, have a good time and have fun with it. This never even crossed my mind."

What "this" has become for Robertson and the rest of the connections of Soldat is a remarkable ride with a colt who has been one of the most consistent performers in his class.

Robertson bought into Soldat shortly after he ran second in his career debut going 5 furlongs at Belmont Park on June 10. Two starts later, the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee broke his maiden by winning the Grade III With Anticipation Stakes on the turf at Saratoga.

Soldat went on to run second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in November, but his transition to dirt has been even more auspicious. A dazzling, 103/4-length win in an allowance race over a sloppy Gulfstream Park track set him up for his 2-length score in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 26.

"I've been there for every race," Robertson said with a huge smile. "I know how fragile this game can be so I was bound and determined to enjoy every moment for however long it lasted. I'm being honest when I say if Soldat were to finish last (in the Derby) ... I wouldn't want anybody to say, 'Gee I'm sorry.' This has been something to enjoy and something to celebrate regardless of what happens."

Robertson and the rest of the camp had to deal with some disappointment when Soldat finished fifth in the Grade I Florida Derby behind Dialed In after getting stuck on the inside and taking a lot of dirt in his face.

The excitement of being at the Kentucky Derby as an owner is not the only reason Robertson is in a particularly good mood these days. Soldat has trained impressively since that defeat and has been sporting a coat full of dapples as he prepares for Saturday's race.

"He just hated the kickback, and it was really hot that day," McLaughlin said of Soldat's Florida Derby run. "But he's really picked his head up since coming to this cooler weather. Going from hot to cool for a horse is like a vitamin shot."

Soldat's achievements have given Robertson a heightened love of racing. He is already making plans to have more horses in partnership.

In a sport that is always looking for new blood, Robertson said he feels that if more people in the game got out the word about its potential, it would draw in more folks like himself.

"I really owe a lot to Maggi Moss and Harvey Clarke. Those are two people who didn't need to take me in as a partner, but they did," Robertson said. "I think the sport needs to have other individuals who can reach out to people on the periphery.

"I think there are a lot of other individuals like me who want to be involved in the game. They just don't know how."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader