LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen November  20, 2017

TRAINER KENNETH ROBERTS, SR.

Kenneth Roberts, Sr. was born February 15, 1963 in Lafayette, Louisiana. His uncle, Anthony Davis, had racehorses and Roberts realized at a very early age that working with horses would be his life calling. He was a high school athlete at Kashmere High School in Houston, Texas, but basketball and football soon took a back seat to training Quarter Horses.

He saddled his first racehorse 38 years ago. While he only won 6 races in 1977, he was undaunted by the hard work and sacrifices required to be at the elite level of his profession. He began winning races in Texas and Louisiana, and developing some stakes caliber runners that took him to Ruidoso Downs and Los Alamitos along the way.

The days are long for Roberts and his staff who oversee a barn of 50 runners, with another 25 on his farm in Mauriceville. Roberts starts his day at 5:30 a.m. supervising morning workouts, evaluates his horses to see what races they are eligible to run, talks with owners, vets and the racing office. He may get a short break before returning to the barn at 3:00 p.m. for afternoon feeding and the preparation for racing on Wednesday through Saturday nights. He will not depart until all his horses are back in the stable area and all racing obligations are completed. He gives a lot of credit to his team, which includes his brother, Roy and a committed crew on the backside.

“If you’re going to do well, you have to be dedicated,” said Roberts. “The hard work pays off. What I love about racing is making sure that not only the horses, but the owners, jockeys and stable hands are all working as a team.”

Branching Out

Through his career, Roberts has saddled over 13,000 horses and has a long list of champions and multiple stakes winners.

"It's hard to name all the horses that hold special memories," admits Roberts. "I Hear A Symphony winning the (1994) All American Derby was something, but Royal Bushwhacker played a big part in my career."

John Soileau's Royal Bushwhacker, a son of Behold a Beduino, broke his maiden at Delta Downs in 1990, showing so much potential that he was sent to Ruidoso Downs to compete in trials for the All American Futurity. He won the All American consolation and followed that with two stakes wins at Los Alamitos his freshman year.

"He gave me the chance to venture out of Louisiana," stated Roberts. "The horse was special; he took me to different places and played a big part in my career."

Connections Made at Yearling Sales

Roberts attends many sales, including the annual LQHBA Yearling Sale and plays a pivotal role in spotting potential futurity stars for his owners.

It is clear to see that Roberts has both the passion and keen eye when it comes to evaluating yearlings. He looks over the prospect from head to toe, studying them with an intense scrutiny. For Roberts, it is more than just the pedigree and hip number; he has to find a connection.

"A lot of times, I will pass by a horse and just get a feeling," said Roberts. "I will go to my owners and tell them that we have to have this one. I don't want to buy just to say we own the horse. I want to spot one that will turn out to be special, to be part of us."

One notable purchase was Ol Time Preacher Man, who Roberts and Florida owner Steve Holland selected at the 2012 LQHBA Yearling Sale. On November 17, 2013, the sorrel gelding by Heza Fast Dash gutted out a nose victory in the $1 million LQHBA Breeders’ Futurity (RG1) at Evangeline Downs

"This horse put it all together at the right time," said Roberts after winning the stakes for the eighth time in his career. "I thank all my owners for sending me good horses. Steve (Holland of T M Ranch) is a good man; we are lucky to have him in our business."

Ol Time Preacher Man, purchased for $20,000, has bankrolled an impressive $565, 933.

"Kenny has set an incredible standard for Louisiana Quarter Horse racing," said Tony Patterson, executive director of the Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association. "He is the rare horseman that combines quantity with quality. Whether it be a maiden race or the richest futurity in the state, you can never count out Kenny Roberts!"

Big Supporter of Louisiana Racing

With shortened race meets in many regions, Roberts appreciates the longer racing seasons at three of the four racetracks in Louisiana.

"It costs a lot of money to ship horses and set up operations for a race meet," said Roberts. "A group of horsemen fought hard for the mandated 46 days and we are grateful for that."

Currently running at Delta Downs, Roberts has become an icon at the Vinton, Louisiana track, where he won 50 races last year to take the training title. He sent out a total of 210 starters during the season, closing out the meet with a victory in the $217,545 Delta Downs Louisiana-bred Derby with Kool Design.

Chris Warren is Director of Racing Operations at both Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs. Last July, Roberts clinched his sixth training title at Delta and was the leading conditioner at the 2014 Evangeline Quarter Horse meet as well.

"Kenny has been a staple in Louisiana racing for over 30 years and continues to be one of our top horsemen in Louisiana," said Warren. "He is as gifted with his 2-year-olds as he is with his stakes-caliber horses. We are very fortunate to have Kenny run at our racetracks."

Owner and Rider Connections

Owners are a pivotal part of racing and Roberts has developed many longstanding and rock-solid relationships. The appreciation is reciprocated and not just in sharing the winner's circle. Like Steve Holland, many of Roberts owners have forged bonds that go beyond the sale ring and racetrack.

Oscar Rohne has enjoyed tremendous success with Roberts. The Burleson, Texas businessman teamed with Roberts on a number of stakes winners, including Bonnies Jet, La Mos Chingono and Kool Design.

"Kenny and I are great friends," acknowledges Rohne. "He is right up there on my top list of the best there is! He's a good guy; even-tempered and a true family man."

Rohne does not hesitate when naming Robert's best attribute as a horseman.

"He really takes care of his horses," states Rohne. "He has tremendous patience with them and puts their interests first. He will not rush them if they are not ready and will take the time to fix issues before problems develop."

Roberts, in turn, respects and values relationships he has built with both his owners and the men who ride for him.

"I have a plan for each horse, but have to make the owners a part of it," he explains. "I'm blessed to have owners who believe in me."

Roberts has supported the careers of many talented jockeys over the past three decades, and does not discriminate based on age! Some of his notable veterans include Alvin “Bubba” Brossette, Charles McMahon, Randy Edison, John Hamilton, Charles McMahon and Patrick Watson.

"They know the horses and tell me what is doing well and what we might need to change," said Roberts. "We are all part of a team and share ideas; if we don't do that, it's not going to work."

No Signs of Slowing Down

Roberts completed 2014 as the fifth leading Quarter Horse trainer in North America by earnings, second only to Paul Jones in wins for the year. According to AQHA statistics, Jones started 1,061 horses, winning 166 races; Roberts sent out 526 runners, recording 122 wins.

As he closes in on four decades in this very demanding business, Roberts shows no signs of burnout or even thinking about retirement.

"I love it," he states."For me, it’s a dream come true. I remember watching races when I was a young boy and saying 'one day I am going to do this'. Through the years, I have experienced the ups and downs of the business. You can't do it year in and out if you don't love it."

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.