07/21/2015 1:10PM

Mac Robertson draws inspiration from his father


How does a lifelong racetracker measure time? Well, McLean Robertson, the leading trainer at Delaware Park, describes his life this way:

◗ “Ten years at Penn National.”

◗ “Ten years in Nebraska.”

◗ “Ten years in Chicago working for my dad.”

◗ “And, 10 years training on my own.”

Robertson, 41, is the son of trainer Hugh Robertson, not a household name, but a highly respected Midwest horsemen, who may be best known for running $1.5 million out of the Illinois-bred Polar Expedition between 1993 and 2000.

“Dad trained at Penn when I was young,” Mac Robertson said. “It was a lot of fun for us kids, maybe not so much for our parents. But the barn burned down on my 10th birthday, I think it was. It was terrible. The horses died. We went back to Nebraska and he went to work for Danny Switzer.”

When Hugh Robertson reopened his stable, Mac, then a teenager, helped his dad out during the summer at Canterbury Park. After attending the University of Nebraska Omaha, where he played football, Mac went out on his own as a trainer in 1994, again spending time at Canterbury.

“I went broke, and then worked for my dad in Chicago,” he said.

Mac Robertson resumed training in 2004. He has raced ever since at Oaklawn Park in the winter and spring and Canterbury in the summer. In 2010, on the advice of Larry Jones and Tim Ritchey, he added Delaware Park to the mix.

“I fly back to Minnesota every week,” Robertson said. “It’s a two-hour flight from Philadelphia.”

Robertson led the Canterbury trainer standings every year from 2005 to 2013. The leading trainer in 2004 was Hugh Robertson.

Mac Robertson finished second to Robertino Diodoro last year at Canterbury and is second to him at the current meet. Robertson has led by purse earnings at Canterbury every year since 2005 and leads again this meet.

Robertson estimates that about 75 percent of his owners are from Minnesota or Wisconsin.

“They are reasonable people, and buy above-average horses,” he said.

Robertson is off to a great start at Delaware this year. As of Tuesday morning, he led the standings with 19 wins from 60 starts.

Robertson said he enjoys racing at Delaware and Canterbury for similar reasons.

“They are both very horse-friendly, and it’s not like that everywhere,” he said. “Delaware has wooden stalls, lots of grass to graze on, two breaks [during training hours] on the main track every day, and turf to train on.”

Robertson said he appreciates the effort John Mooney, the director of racing at Delaware, and Canterbury CEO Randy Sampson make to communicate with horsemen.

“Mr. Mooney is always there,” Robertson said. “He wants things done right. It’s the same at Canterbury. Randy Sampson is there every time they run a race. He brought Eric Halstrom on board, and he’s the same way.”

Robertson has racked up a lot of wins the past 10 years and is 47 away from 1,000. His stable has purse earnings of nearly $22.2 million.

Still, Mac is making an effort to slow things down a bit and be more like his father.

“My dad is more obligated to the horse than I am,” he said. “He brings them along real slow, and then I see he’s winning good races with them at 3 and 4. I am trying to be more like him. When I get a good one, I try to take my time. I want a horse to have a career.”

The talents of both Robertsons were on display at Delaware on July 4 when Mac won a $35,000 turf sprint allowance with Voodoo Spell, who was making his first start for him. Voodoo Spell is now 11 for 23 in his career with earnings of $165,885.

Hugh Robertson owns Voodoo Spell. He bought him as a yearling for $3,500 at an Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. sale in 2012. Voodoo Spell won an $8,000 maiden-claiming race at Hawthorne in February 2014 and has steadily improved ever since.