05/17/2009 11:00PM

Trainer Craig Roberts dies at 78


AUBURN, Wash. - Longtime West Coast trainer Craig Roberts died Saturday at age 78. He had been in poor health since suffering two strokes last winter, and was rehabilitating at a Seattle-area nursing facility in recent weeks when he fell ill with pneumonia.

Perhaps best known as the trainer of Grade 1 winner Slew of Damascus, Roberts for decades operated formidable barns at Longacres and later Emerald Downs. He won 39 stakes races at Longacres, and had 116 victories and eight stakes wins at Emerald Downs. His horses also won stakes in California, none larger than Slew of Damascus's surprising victory in the Grade 1, $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup in 1994.

Slew of Damascus, who won 16 of 48 starts and earned $1,420,353, notched his final career victory at Emerald Downs in 1997.

Roberts got his initial trainer's license at Longacres in 1965 and rose to prominence in 1971 when he saddled Rock Bath to win the Longacres Derby. He quickly built a client list that including some of the region's most influential owners. From 1976 through 2008, his horses won 902 races and more than $11 million in purses.

Assistant trainer Martin Pimentel has been running Roberts's current 15-horse barn at Emerald Downs since Roberts suffered his first stroke in mid-December while training horses in Pleasanton, Calif. He had been in and out of hospitals ever since and suffered a second stroke in mid-February.

Survivors include Connie Roberts, his wife of 38 years. Funeral arrangements are pending.