Born in Ottawa, Robbie King recorded his first riding win on Nov. 6, 1982, before joining the training ranks in the 1990s. He returned to ride in 2005, hanging up his tack in 2008 to take on the reins of his current role with the Jockeys’ Benefit Association of Canada (JBAC).
His accomplishments include back-toback Sovereign Awards as Canada’s top apprentice rider in 1983-84, and four consecutive Ontario meet titles (1983 Woodbine Autumn, 1983 Greenwood Autumn, 1984 Greenwood Spring and 1984 Woodbine Summer). He was also the recipient of the 2009 Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.
King notched 1,349 wins over his riding career. One of his most notable triumphs came when he partnered Don’t Trust Me to an upset score over Canada’s 1992 Horse of the Year, Benburb, in the 1993 Fair Play Breeders’ Cup. He sent out 29 winners as a trainer, three of which were in stakes races.
What approach, from being a former rider/trainer, have you been able to apply to your role at JBAC?
“A hands-on appreciation and compassionate understanding of both vocations’ committed involvement. Both are focused on the same outcome (winning races), and yet both harbour their own unique hardships and woes. As a former jockey, I know the difficulties associated in the day-to-day maintenance of one’s weight, finding live horses, dealing with the
race-riding regulatory issues (suspensions), track safety, maintaining a positive attitude, staying healthy and the many long days and nights. As an owner/trainer, the financial and emotional investment, as well as the trials and tribulations in getting a horse to a race is vast. You have to get them to racing fitness, in the right race, on the right day, the right distance, the right post position and when the stars finally align, one of them hopefully wins a race. Each carries its own unique and yet distinctive struggles. That’s why everyone smiles in the winner’s circle.”
What’s the guiding philosophy you use to represent riders at every racetrack across Canada?
“Empathy, having literally walked a mile in their shoes. Whether it’s a nervous apprentice riding their first race ever, to the wily veteran at a Stewards’ inquiry film review, or a jockey laying on an ambulance gurney at the hospital, I’ve been in those situations. I have an empathetic understanding to what they are thinking and feeling. A career as a jockey can be both exciting and rewarding, but it’s not always an easy life. The JBAC being in its 75th year has afforded unity, comfort, support and guidance for so many jockeys over the years.”
What’s the most rewarding aspect of the job? Most demanding?
“Like a trainer and their young racehorse, I truly enjoy seeing young riders mature and develop their skills, and grow into a successful journeymen/women. I’m sure it’s similar in most sports, but watching races as a former jockey, you see little idiosyncrasies associated to the make-up of a horse race, and when that “poetic ride” makes the difference. On the other hand, it deeply saddens me to see talented jockeys who never reach their potential, waste away their talents, and fall prey to the many hardships and woes of life.”
What was your greatest accomplishment in racing?
“After all my boyhood dreams, nothing quite felt better than my first winner (Irish Taheka, Nov 6, 1982). Horse racing has also afforded me some fabulous opportunities to compete and win races all over the world, places like Hong Kong, South Africa and many different tracks across North America. I did manage to win six races one day at Fort Erie. I should have broken the record on my last ride and won seven. I was laying second the whole race and thought I had the leader easily, moved a little too late, and got beat a dirty nose. Oops!”
What do you miss most about riding/training?
“The day-to-day, hands-on interaction with the horses. No truer words were ever said, than when Winston Churchill stated, ‘There is something about the outside of a horse, that is good for the inside of a man.’ That being said, sitting on a nice horse on an early misty summer morning at Woodbine, the uniquely sweet aromas of the stables, the days sun just starting to peek out… that’s just awesome.”
Handicap the odds the following will occur:
Your Ottawa Senators will win the Stanley Cup before the Leafs do: 5-2
“Only because the Toronto Maple Leafs find unique ways to lose, and have been seemingly ‘snake bit’ since 1967. (Laughing) I just need to get Eugene Melnyk to listen to some of my ideas of how my hometown hockey team should be run!”
Odds you will come out of retirement and ride again: 99-1
“The only way I’d ride again, is if someone could convince Robin Platts, Sandy Hawley, Mickey Walls, Larry Attard and Richard Dos Ramos to join me in an exhibition oldtimers’ race. Winner buys dinner.”
Odds a Canadian-based jockey will win a Breeders’ Cup race in next three years: 10-1
“Canada did most recently garner a Kentucky Derby winner with Hastings Park-based jockey Mario Gutierrez (aboard I’ll Have Another). It is going to happen soon, I hope. I wholeheartedly believe in the amazing talent of some of our Canadian-based jockeys against any, and all.”
Odds someone will beat Mickey Walls’ record for wins in a Woodbine season, in the next 10 years: 30-1
“With the diverse and widespread talent we now have riding at Woodbine, plus the reduced opportunities in less racing days, I think Mickey’s phenomenal single season record of 221, is pretty safe for a while.”