With a running style that sees Smart Fix come from the clouds it isn’t hard to pick out last year’s Alberta Horse of the Year: she’s the one that will be running last during the early going. “It’s an exciting style to watch but it gives you a heart attack,” said trainer and co-owner Jerri Robertson as she anxiously gets ready for this thoroughbred season to finally get underway this Sunday afternoon at Century Mile - first post 5:15 p.m.
Last. Last. Last. First.
Watching Smart Fix run is like reading the tortoise and the hare fable. You don’t think there’s anyway the turtle can beat the rabbit but, deep down, you know it’s going to happen. “When you’ve got a horse that comes from far off the pace you’re always worried about getting into traffic,” said Robertson, who has been training thoroughbreds since the fall of 1985. “You can’t run her any differently. If you try and lay her closer to the front she just doesn’t fire. If she’s too close too early she just backs up. “Instead, you’ve got to take a hold of her at the beginning. Then she’ll give you a good kick at the end.”
Smart Fix, now seven-years-old, really came into her own at the close of last year’s season winning her last three races with huge and scintillating come-from-behind efforts - trailing far back early and then zipping past them down the stretch. The trio of wins started with the Northlands Distaff on Aug. 17 at Century Mile. As per usual, Smart Fix didn’t have a horse headed after the first quarter of a mile.
Still only ahead of one horse after half a mile Smart Fix and regular jockey Rigo Sarmiento started to make their move down the backstretch beginning to pick up horses like they were painted to the inside rail. Five wide after being sent away at odds of 14-1, it was like watching a lion eat. With a quarter of a mile still left to run in the mile and an eighth, nine-horse $75,000 stake at the head of the long stretch, Smart Fix already had the lead. She would win by a very easy four lengths.
“She really opened some eyes that day because she beat some really good horses - there were some nice mares that came to Edmonton for that race and she won easy,” said Robertson. “She showed she was legit.” Next was the Fall Classic Distaff at Balzac’s Century Downs on Sept. 15. This time Smart Fix had one horse behind her after the first quarter mile. But this one was over real early. This time at the head of the stretch she was already three lengths in front; this time there was no suspense - no ‘heart attacks.’
Instead, owners Tim Kane, Lesley Hardy, Leanne Chiodo, Judy Frost and Robertson, were already on their feet hugging and yelling and screaming in the clubhouse. Floating down the stretch, Smart Fix won by an eased-up four and three-quarter lengths.
A month later, on Oct. 14, Robertson entered her in the $50,000 Lynn Chouinard Founders Distaff - also at Century Downs. “I was really worried that day,” said Robertson. “The speed had won all day. I kept thinking ‘Oh, God; she’s never going to be able to close any ground.’ As I watched the races I kept pleading for a horse to come from off the pace to give me some hope.” But it didn’t happen. Until, that is, Smart Fix entered the starting gate.
Entered against a full field of 12, once again, as is her wont, Smart Fix started slowly. Ninth after a quarter of a mile she was still eighth - trailing by a full 10 lengths - after half a mile in the mile and a sixteenth affair. But then Smart Fix kicked into gear passing five horses down the backstretch while four-wide to get into third. Even then, though, it didn’t look like Smart Fix was going to win because she was still third with just an eighth of a mile to run.
Smart Fix, however, had other ideas. With resolute determination, Smart Fix kept coming and coming battling against the heavily speed-biased surface. In the final yards Smart Fix got up by three parts of a length over Blues Roar.
“Given the way the track was that was probably her most impressive race of the year,” said Robertson. “She came from a long ways back and she was the only horse all day that made up any ground in the stretch.”
Smart Fix, who, in addition to winning Horse of the Year, also took the trophies for best aged mare and best Alberta-bred - the first time since Cool Ventura in 2009 that a thoroughbred was named both Champion Alberta-bred and Horse of the Year in the same season - nearly made it four straight stakes wins to close out the season. Before the Northlands Distaff, Smart Fix got into the kind of traffic Robertson always worried about. Bottled up, Sarmiento had no where to go at the top of the lane and wound up second - defeated by just a length Daz Lin Dawn.
“If that doesn’t happen - and with any luck at all - she probably wins that race too,” said Robertson of that July 21 $50,000 R.K. ‘Red’ Smith. It hasn’t always been that way though. Two years ago, in seven starts, Smart Fix never won a single race. “Anything that could go wrong, went wrong,” said Robertson. “She got a liver infection and then she kept tying up on me” said Robertson, the latter an ailment when a horse’s muscles - usually the hindquarters - cramp and seize up.
“She’s not a skinny-looking mare or anything but it’s hard to keep weight on her; she’s always been on the lean side. “She would never put on the weight that I thought she should - because she liked to train so hard - so I changed her feed. I put her on a high-sugar feed. I thought I was doing the right thing trying to fatten her up. But it definitely didn’t suit her. It backfired.”
So, last year, Robertson took Smart Fix off the sweet feed and put her on a complete feed. “Once I did that she never looked back,” Robertson said of Smart Fix, who also had a second last year in the June 9 RedTail Landing stake when she missed by just half a length to the the talented Raider while only running seven furlongs. And, in the mud.
“It seems to be the right recipe for her.” One part of Smart Fix’s ‘diet’ that has never changed has been the mare’s desire for mints. “She’ll knock you over trying to get a mint,” said Robertson. “She likes them so much that Tim (Kane) brings her mints in 50-pound boxes.”
Robertson almost never got to train Smart Fix, a mare by Kissin Kris out of the Grindstone mare, Char’s Still Here. Bred by Pierre Esquirol, Smart Fix failed to reach her reserve bid of $5,000 at the 2014 Alberta Yearling Sales. “After the sale was over we went to talk to Pierre and he said he’s sell us Smart Fix for $5,000 if we also took another filly he had consigned to the sale, She Should Be Dancing, for another $5,000.
“I’m so glad we did,” said Robertson. “She Should Be Dancing never broke her maiden but Smart Fix has exceeded all expectations. “She won $138,250 for us last year alone and has career earnings just under $300,000. “I liked her at the sale. The mother, Char’s Still Here, was a good producer and Smart Fix was a pretty correct filly.”
As a two-year-old, Smart Fix’s owners didn’t know what they had gotten. “She bucked off everybody that tried to get on her. She would have made a good rodeo horse,” said Robertson. Fortunately, Smart Fix settled down and made a great race horse. “She just matured and fortunately grew out of it.”
Smart Fix has already made one start this year - running sixth at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg. But that was only going six furlongs. At that distance Smart Fix hasn’t even gotten warmed up. “She wants a distance of ground; she’s definitely not a sprinter. I wish there were more mile and an eighth races. For that matter I think she could win going a mile and three-eighths too. “And she likes the one-mile track at Century Downs. The long stretch for a horse like her - with her late-running style - is what she needs.
“Smart Fix gave us a lot of thrills last summer - when she starts moving it’s always exciting. And I think she’ll do it again this summer. She’s always been sound and she loves her job. She’s seven-years-old now but you’d never know it. “She loves to train. She wants to go every day. She’s a bit of a handful to gallop because she’s so strong. But she’s a lovely horse to have in the barn. Anybody can go in the stall with her. “She’s just a really kind, nice mare. She’s the best horse I’ve ever trained,” said Robertson, who always posts a high percentage of winners and has a clever eye for picking out winners - like the day she claimed Smile Again Pheta for just $7,000 and wound up winning the 2015 Mademoiselle stakes by 10 lengths in the mud.
With 20 horses in her stable, Robertson waits impatiently for Sunday’s opening day card to begin. “I think we’ve got a lot of good horses in our barn. Some good young horses too.” One of the young horses she has is a two-year-old half brother to Smile Again Pheta. “He’s by Smarty Jones and coming out of that mare he’s got to be a mud runner.”
Moreover, Robertson also has Smart Fix’s half brother whose name is Lanny Mac, who was named after former Calgary Flames star Lanny McDonald because, like the hockey star, the horse Lanny Mac, used to have a moustache. “Lanny Mac was immature as a two-year-old so he was turned out early. But he’s coming around good and is showing a bit of promise.”
As well as having a champion in her barn, Robertson is just thrilled that racing is finally back in Alberta. “Oh boy, that’s for sure,” said Robertson. “You work your whole life to get a good stable and then the virus comes. For so long nobody knew what was going to happen. Nobody knew when we were going to be able to race again. We were all in the dark. You really have to credit the owners for sticking with us. It hasn’t been easy on them, paying training bills and not knowing what was going on."
“They kept us going and kept us working,” said Robertson, who got an early jump on spring training when she started her preparations on Jan. 23 at an indoor arena south of Calmar. “We trained there for a month and then moved into Century Mile on Feb. 26.
“You also have to give a lot of credit to the owners and management at Century Mile because they did their best to keep us there. We could train five days a week and the track was good all spring. When I started training this winter we were thinking that we’d be racing in April. We got our horses fit and then Covid-19 happened. You couldn’t just stop on them. That’s just asking for trouble. You want to have the horses ready when racing returned. But nobody knew when that would be. Some owners turned out their two-year-old to try and save a bit of money. But how do you know?"
“Nobody knew. People were always asking me when racing was going to return but my answer was always the same: you know as much as I do. We’re all just glad to get racing back. Sunday can’t come soon enough.”
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