by Ted Black

Long after he retires from his current profession, trainer John (Jerry) Robb will be remembered as the conditioner of the durable Little Bold John, who won 25 stakes and earned nearly $2 million in his prolonged career. But in 2013 Robb is going to be remembered for his impeccable work with two year-olds, including a trio that is competing in two stakes on Saturday’s card at Laurel Park.

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    • Laurel 4 (1:59 p.m.) — Gin Talking S., 2yo fillies
    • Laurel 7 (3:25 p.m.) — Broad Brush S., 3yo and up
    • Laurel 8 (3:55 p.m.) — Marylander S., 2yo

In the often unpredictable world of horse racing, even Robb was unsure how well his current crop of juveniles would perform on the track this season. While the numbers speak glowingly of his handling of two-year-olds – Robb’s freshmen have won 20 of 53 starts (36 percent), including 9 of 17 at Laurel Park (53 percent) – the longtime Maryland conditioner admitted that he headed into the campaign with more questions than answers surrounding the group.  Several months before their respective careers began, none had appeared to stand out from the rest.

“When they first started training, they took turns beating each other,” Robb said. “So, I just assumed they were all average. Turns out they’re all above average. Some of them, like Debt Ceiling, Jonesin For Jerry and Joint Custody, are pretty good. I think Debt Ceiling is a really nice horse. He’s turned out for the winter, but he’s going to have a good three-year-old season.  He’ll mainly stay in sprints.”

Debt Ceiling, a son of Discreet Cat that Robb trains for Tim O’Donohue, finished the season with four wins from seven starts and earnings of nearly $186,000. He won his career debut back in late March at Laurel Park, then won the Rollicking Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day and then took the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in late June. After running sixth in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, he prevailed in the First State Stakes at Delaware Park before finishing last in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and then eighth in the James F. Lewis, III, Stakes at Laurel.
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[/boxify] Another talented Robb-trained colt, Joint Custody, will seek his first stakes victory this Saturday when he goes postward in the seven-furlong, $100,000 Marylander at Laurel.  An Outflanker gelding out of a Malibu Moon mare, Joint Custody defeated maiden $25,000 claimers at Timonium at first asking in August and then won an allowance at Laurel Park before running second in the Maryland Million Nursery and fourth in the James F. Lewis.  Joint Custody has had one very good workout since, getting four furlongs in 49 3/5 seconds on Nov. 30, second best of 56 runners at that distance that morning.

Trainer Jerry Robb's two year-olds have been on a tear this season.  Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

Trainer Jerry Robb’s two year-olds have been on a tear this season. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

“He probably peaked a little later than some of the others,” Robb said.  “But he’s turned out to be a decent colt.  I liked what I saw from him in the Maryland Million and then in the Lewis.  He worked pretty good last Saturday morning and I think he likes the distance.  I’ll probably run him back in the Maryland Juvenile Championship at the end of the month.  Three weeks between races should be fine for him.”

While Robb noted that Maryland Million Lassie winner Jonesin for Jerry, is pointing for the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship on Dec. 28, two of his other trainees, Venice Queen and Respectful Wishes, collectively represent one-third of the field entered in this weekend’s $100,000 Gin Talking Stakes for two year-olds fillies. Respectful Wishes, a Maryland-bred daughter of Fairbanks out of the graded stakes-placed Honour And Glory mare Respectful, has won her last two starts and three of six overall and looks to have the best chance of upsetting New York invader Mamdooha.

“Respectful Wishes is definitely on her game right now,” Robb said. “She’s won her last two starts and looked good each time, so this stakes looked like a good spot for her.  Venice Queen is probably a little behind the others at this point, but she won two starts back and looks okay.  This is probably the last start this year for both of those fillies.  The noms didn’t look too tough, so I thought I would take a shot with both of them.”

Robb also noted that Stormin Wendy is turned out for the winter.  The juvenile daughter of Ecclesiastic that he races in the colors of his own Hidden Hill Farm won twice in five starts and banked nearly $80,000 along the way.  She won at second asking at Delaware Park then concluded her campaign with an allowance victory at Laurel on Oct. 10. Her first four starts had been at Delaware.  Jonesin for Jerry, who has won three of seven starts and earned over $128,000 this year, will seek her second stakes tally later this month in the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship.

“They’ve all turned out to be pretty good,” Robb said. “When you have 25-30 two-year-olds, you can expect to have six or eight good ones.  But all six of these two-year-olds have turned out good.  That usually doesn’t happen.”

Tim O’Donohue, who owns both Debt Ceiling and Venice Queen, is realistic about the success of his juveniles.  Realistic, but also a little starry-eyed.  “When you’re a kid, you always have dreams,” said the 50 year-old, a Florida resident who is no stranger to Maryland racing because his brother-in-law is longtime Maryland stalwart jockey Mario Pino.  “But owning a horse like him has always been my dream. It was amazing to see him win that stakes at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. I don’t think he’ll make it back there, but you can always dream.”

(Featured image, of Jonesin for Jerry, by Jeff Snyder, Maryland Jockey Club.)