Trainer and owner Sandra Roberts at The Backstretch at Fraser Downs with Mmmmmh

A-Mmmmmh-azing turnaround

Trainer/owner gets ‘hand-me-down’ horses ready to race

By Kristine Salzmann

Mmmmmh was a “special” horse, Sandra Roberts recalls. Too smart for his own good, one might say.

Others simply said he was dangerous.

Roberts, a horse owner and trainer at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino, remembers when she first got Mmmmmh in October of last year.

He was known to stop suddenly on the track, and then to kick at anyone who tried to get him going again. He would also “see ghosts” and get scared for no apparent reason.

Mmmmmh had already gone through a few trainers before he came to Roberts, who finds it easier to call him “Mark.”

Roberts began working at Fraser Downs 12 years ago as a groom, taking care of horses’ day-to-day needs. She now owns four harness racing horses and trains five, who can all be seen on the track this season: Mmmmmh, Fantasy Money, Camerlengo, B R Mystic Star and Red Star Chuckles, a friend’s horse.

All her horses are “rescues” or “hand-me-downs,” she says.

“They’re the horses that for various reasons others have given up on.”

These horses would otherwise end up on the waitlist for Greener Pastures, a Standardbred horse adoption society in Langley, in the hope of eventually being taken into a new home.

“Greener Pastures does a wonderful job of placing horses but they’re limited as to how many they can take at a time,” Roberts explains.

She says she’s lucky her husband works outside the industry so she can afford to work with the horses for the love of it rather than as a money-making venture.

And if a horse needs a few months of rest, Roberts can keep them at her 10-acre property in Cloverdale.

“A lot of them [owners] are in it as a business,” she says. “And it’s like any business – when a business doesn’t make money, you have to make changes. The horse might need to be turned out for two months just to rest, it might be slightly lame or it might have an illness, and they just can’t afford to put any more money into it… And I’m always right there to give it a shot.”

This doesn’t mean all her rescues are financial losses.

“Mark is a wonderful success story,” she says.

Of the seven horses she’s had since becoming an owner six years ago, he was also her biggest challenge.

“He became even more of a challenge because so many people considered him dangerous. There were fears – actually, the first few times he was in a race people were leery of him,” Roberts recalls.

She and another trainer decided to give Mmmmmh 30 days. They were patient, calm, and on day 28 they put him through a qualifying race.

He passed, and starting racing last November. He paid for himself by making Roberts $9,200 that season – and more importantly, he did not act out in a single race.

“For a horse that was considered dangerous and that people said would never make it, he’s proved that he’s got capability.”

Four-year-old Mmmmmh raced last Sunday (Aug. 19) in the harness racing season’s opening weekend at Fraser Downs, but drew an outside post position and finished sixth of eight.

For those who want to see Mmmmmh race, he should be on the track this Sunday, Roberts says.

For the live harness racing schedule at Fraser Downs, visit fraserdowns.com/racing.