06/03/2011 4:42PM

Hastings: Teaming with son allows Henson to branch out

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Prior to 2009, trainer Steve Henson did what most trainers at Hastings do after the meet closes. He stayed in the Vancouver area either working on a farm or breaking babies before coming into Hastings near the end of January to get his horses ready for the traditional mid-April opening.

In 2009, however, he decided to take a string of horses to Turf Paradise, where he admittedly struggled, winning just three races from 56 starters.

“I had the wrong kind of horses,” Henson explained.

Last year, he sent the right kind of horses to Phoenix with his 21-year-old son Robbie who had just passed the trainer’s test at Hastings. Robbie Henson got off to a great start as a trainer, winning eight races from 39 starts.

“I am very proud of what he did,” Steve Henson said. “He really studied hard to pass the trainer’s test and then he did a great job when he was in Phoenix. We sent him down with a loaded gun, and he knew how to pull the trigger.”

The Hensons plan to race in the winter again, and Steve Henson was happy to find out that Robbie is more than capable of taking care of business on his own.

“We are certainly going back to the United States to race next winter,” Steve Henson said. “What is really great is that I can leave horses with Robbie in Arizona and hopefully I can take a string to Southern California.”

One of the reasons it took Henson, 55, so long to race in the United States was a drug conviction 17 years ago. He received a temporary permit to go to United States in 2009 and had to stay in Canada this year while he was getting the paperwork done to be able to work there on a regular basis.

“It is all good now and I’m as close to being a saint as you can find,” he said. “Because of my past, I couldn’t race in the winter, but our plan is to branch out and race there every year. Having the confidence to send horses with Robbie is like having a breath of fresh air. It gives me a lot of options, and he has opened up a lot doors for me. I can send horses anywhere in North America and trust him to do a good job.”

Robbie has been coming to the track with his father since he was 5 years old. He would have rather been a jockey, but his weight won’t allow it. He did do some riding in the bushes, winning six races from 99 mounts at Kin Park, Sunflower Downs, and Kamloops.

He is one of the most sought-after exercise riders at Hastings and also works as a valet in the jockeys’ room. He discovered something about himself in Arizona, where he was on his own for the first time in his life.

“I learned a lot about working on my own,” Robbie Henson said. “I talked to my dad all the time on the phone, but I was the guy in charge and had to make all the decisions. I certainly gained a lot of confidence.”

Making the adjustment from being the head guy to working for mostly his father again has been an easy adjustment for Robbie.

“I really enjoy exercising horses, so I am happy to be back at it here,” he said. “But I also liked having the responsibility of being on my own when I was in Arizona.”

The Hensons are complete opposites. Steve Henson is as outgoing as they come, and his son is more the strong silent type.

“Part of being successful in this business is being able to sell yourself,” Steve Henson said. “Robbie is a bit shy, but he is growing and learning every day and he made a lot of new connections when he was in Arizona.”

With a 20 percent rate of winners in his first season a trainer, Robbie Henson can let his record do the speaking for him.

Lady Alex making Hastings debut

Lady Alex will be making her first start at Hastings for the elder Henson in the fourth race, a $50,000 optional claiming race for fillies and mares that drew seven horses going 1 1/16 miles. It is a quality field with five stakes winners, and Henson hopes Lady Alex will be good enough to compete with the best fillies and mares at Hastings.

Lady Alex is coming off of a third-place finish in a $40,000 claiming race on the Hollywood Park turf course April 30. She was an easy winner the only time she ran on dirt in a $20,000 claiming race at Santa Anita in February.

“I like her a lot,” Henson said. “She’s been running tough in high-priced claiming races in Southern California, and I think she fits with the stakes horses here. We’ll find out.”