To the Victress goes the spoils! Sent off at nearly 10-1 in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Handicap, Victress last at the half-mile call, rallied to win by three lengths in the $50,000 race on August 22.
On September 10, the chestnut filly, at 9-2, was last at the half-mile mark, but once again was full of run late, eking out a neck nod in the $100,000 British Columbia Oaks.
A patient hand, a passion for his craft and a humble personality has added up to a thoroughbred racing thrill ride for Robert Gilker.
He is, admittedly, not much of a talker when it comes to any accolades or accomplishments that have come his way since 1982, the year he sent out his first horse as a trainer.
Since then, there have been numerous successes, including a recent milestone score Gilker, one that he had no idea he had reached.
“I had no clue at all,” Gilker said with a laugh, in discovering he had recorded his 300th lifetime win. “I don’t really know what to say about it. Obviously, I’m very happy. I’m also very happy for all the owners and for everyone that’s contributed to that number.”
Gilker comes by his love of horses and horseracing naturally. His father, Walter (Gil), was a trainer. His mother, Gerry, once rode horses in the bush.
“I guess you can say it was in my blood,” said Robert, who won 20-plus races each year from 2008-10. “I’ve always enjoyed it for as long as I can remember. Good times or bad, I’ve always loved being around the horses.”
Two of his most notable stars are Herbie D and Victress.
Herbie D, a British Columbia-bred gelding, is a multiple stakes winner, including a victory in the 2013 edition of the Grade 3 Longacres Mile Handicap, contested at Emerald Downs in Washington.
Three years ago, the bay, bred and co-owned by George Robbins, swept five categories at the B.C. Thoroughbred Awards dinner: Open Horse of the Year, B.C. Bred Horse of the Year, Champion Sprinter, Champion Older Male Open Division and Champion Older Male B.C. Bred Division.
Herbie D took the 2013 runnings of the John Longden 6000, the Lieutenant Governors, the Mt. Ranier Handicap, and the 78th Longacres.
This year, it’s Victress, a horse Gilker co-owns with his wife, Vicky (who gallops the filly), that’s the stable star.
The Kentucky-bred, by Include out of a Victory Gallop mare, won the Hong Kong Jockey Club Handicap and the British Columbia Oaks, both at Hastings Park.
“You’re never really sure just how good they’ll be, but I did think she had the possibility of being a good one,” offered the Vancouver-based Gilker, who bought the horse for a mere $3,500 at the first-ever Hastings Paddock Sale in March. “Winning those two races – watching her rally from last to first in both – was a really big thrill.”
And certainly something worthy of boasting about, right?
“Not at all,” said Gilker. “You never really know what tomorrow will hold, so you just try and focus on each day and go from there. Talking about a big win – that’s just not who I am.”
What he happens to be, however, is a genuine West Coast success story, a trainer who undoubtedly has shown he has the winning touch.