For all he has accomplished, Jackie’s Warrior has considerable unfinished business when he competes in the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 5 at Keeneland, the last race of his record-setting career.
As much elation as the relatively inexpensive son of Maclean’s Music has brought to owners Judy and Kirk Robison and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, the season-culminating Breeders’ Cup has meant frustration.
Favored Jackie’s Warrior relinquished the narrow lead he held at the top of the stretch in finishing fourth in the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland two years ago as victorious Essential Quality topped him for the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
Jackie’s Warrior was honored last season as the nation’s finest sprinter — with no help from his Breeders’ Cup performance. He again was sent off as a strong favorite, this time in the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar. He again showed the way turning for home. He again weakened in the final furlong, coming in sixth this time while the Robison family looked on in dismay.
“I love the Breeders’ Cup more than any other two days of racing, whether I’m in there or not. As a fan, it’s just the best racing we have in America,” Kirk Robison said. “So, to be favored in those races and not run well is really a crusher.”
The Robisons discovered their horse of a lifetime for $95,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale. They sold his breeding rights to Spendthrift Farm toward the end of his 2-year-old campaign. No one would have blamed them if they had retired Jackie’s Warrior at the end of last season.
But no. His body of work had been too enjoyable for that, and the sporting side of the Robisons outweighed everything. They could not wait to see what 2022 would bring.
“I would feel like I cheated the horse if he quit after the 3-year-old year and did not run as a 4-year-old,” Robinson said. “I know a good horse, barring injuries, is going to be even better as a 4-year-old.”
Judy was equally enthusiastic about enjoying the ride for one more campaign. “We’ve been in horse racing a long, long time and he’s by far the best horse we’ve ever had,” she said. “The pleasure our entire family has gotten from this horse, it’s priceless.”
Jackie’s Warrior has rewarded that faith by delivering one thrilling victory after another this season. His roll for regular rider Joel Rosario began with a gate-to-wire decision in the April 16 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park. He was a geared-down, four-length victor in the May 7 Churchill Down Stakes Presented by Ford. He coasted by five lengths in the June 10 True North Stakes at Belmont Park despite being eased late by Rosario, who was intent on reserving as much as possible for the next race.
That turned out to be historic. Jackie’s Warrior delivered a rousing two-length victory in the July 30 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, stamping him as the only horse in the rich history of iconic Saratoga Race Course to bring home Grade 1 wins in each of three successive years. He had previously captured the Runhappy Hopeful Stakes in 2020 and the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes in 2021.
Asmussen was to-the-moon elated after that accomplishment. “To have a horse that is the only horse to win Grade 1s three years in a row at Saratoga, to have a horse do something no one else has ever done, makes him immortal to us, makes him immortal to racing,” he said.
Asmussen continues to set the bar as North America’s leading trainer in wins. That Vanderbilt will always hold a special place in his heart. “I wanted this more than you are supposed to want things,” he said. “You can’t imagine how much this horse means to the barn.”
Unfortunately for the connections, Jackie’s Warrior could not keep his unblemished 2022 record intact before the Breeders’ Cup. Heavy pressure by Pipeline provided the ideal set-up for Cody’s Wish and he upset the reigning sprint champion by 1 ¼ lengths in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes on Aug. 27 at Saratoga.
The six-furlong Sprint should be much more in the wheelhouse of Jackie’s Warrior, who is very likely to be favored again. His past performances jump off the page. He has taken on graded-stakes competition in every outing since he broke his maiden. He is a winner of 12 of 17 starts lifetime with $2,779,164 in earnings.
The Robison family looks forward to giving him a grand sendoff. Judy and Kirk have two daughters, Amy and Jill, and nine grandchildren ranging in age from 18 to 27. Grayson is the oldest. They plan to have a large contingent at Keeneland.
“We are doing our best to create another generation of people who like horse racing,” Kirk said. “It’s in their blood.”
He is optimistic Jackie’s Warrior will secure that elusive Breeders’ Cup win and provide them with one last hurrah. It would mean everything to Kirk, Judy, and the family.
“When you win at the Breeders’ Cup,” he said, “it’s going to be in the history books forever.”