Came a whisper the other day, what they call racetrack steam. Got it on good authority.
They’re plannin’ this farewell fling at Laurel Park on Oct. 23. During the Jim McKay Maryland Million, the big show they put on every fall, they’re gonna throw some kinda bash for this mare who caught a raw deal and still won like crazy. Wicked big earner. Kept the guy who owns and trained and bred her, Jerry Robb, on pins and needles five years. Gina Robb too. She and Jerry got hitched in 2017, day after Thanksgiving.
“The turkey got cooked,” Jerry says. Cracks wise with the best of ’em, this guy. Made his wife laugh.
Anyway, word gets out that Jerry and Gina plan to retire this Anna’s Bandit. Once word spills at the track, fuhgeddaboutit. That sets up the play. Georganne Hale, the track VP, starts thinkin’ how to show the mare some respect, then head vet Dionne Benson corners her all perky and says somethin’ like, “Did you hear the news about Anna’s Bandit? Somebody should write something!” Now you’ve got this big to-do in the works, and a story to boot.
That’s how it all happened, see. It’s what they call a feel-good story, if you go for that kinda thing. Robb and the missus dropped a dime, and – bam! – a see-ya-later parade right there on the track, if you call a one-horse deal a parade. They wanna do it for the mare and all those folks she jazzed up with her monster stretch runs, stealin’ the show from those poor frontrunners.
Maybe they coulda spiced up the invitation. Somethin’ like, “Say goodbye to our little friend.”
So when the time comes, forget the tote. Take the Form and ditch it. Lose the program. The horse’ll come home a winner in some la-de-da stroll to the wire, without a jock. And folks’ll cheer like hell for what she did, and what she did before, and what she still could do.
To tell the story right, you gotta hit the big stuff – the 11 stakes wins, the 800-grand haul, the Maryland Million Distaff she won on, like, no rest in ’19. But the tale goes deep.
It all started with Jerry payin’ attention. He’s at Pimlico one day, end of May 2007, sees some longshot 2-year-old named Valin Time win a race for P.J. Pane. First-time starter, this filly.
Now, Jerry did a lot of good with young horses; still does. Says if you can get a 2-year-old race-fit early, you take an edge just by beatin’ others to the punch. Not so easy, young horses still growin’ and all. It’s tricky givin’ ’em enough work but not too much.
“They’ve gotta go through all their marching orders with no problems,” Jerry says. “And it’s so much easier earlier in the year. Every week goes by, it gets tougher and tougher and tougher. But I don’t need everybody to know that.”
He laughed after that like he told a joke, like everything was on-the-record legit.
Anyway, like, four months later, Jerry hits a yearling sale at Timonium, thumbs through the book, sees Valin Time’s full-sister in there, bends the page. Winds up shellin’ out 13,500 clams for the filly, Onearmedbandit. She’s by No Armistice out of Court Tour, a Polish Numbers mare. No pinhook or finesse play or anything like that. Jerry’s not lookin’ to cut anybody in for a piece either. Buys her solo, to race.
He figures the filly could be an early bird like her sister, and look what happens. She wins her first start, second, third, fourth. The fourth is some Charles Town stake.
Onearmedbandit can run all right, but down the road they find she can’t breathe so well. Some vet says there’s a growth on her throat. Blocks the airway. It’s benign, this thing, but untouchable.
“No one would treat it,” Jerry says. “No one knew what to do with it.” So here’s this filly, all legged up and no place to go. Four wins at 2. Retires at 6 years old with seven wins outta 22 starts. Socked away some good dough, though, more than 300 Gs.
Now Jerry goes to breed her. He’d trained a horse from Great Notion’s first crop, Great Love – won a couple stakes and Jerry’s attaboy. So he sends Onearmedbandit to Great Notion up at Northview Stallion Station over there in Chesapeake City. Let’s call it 2013.
Weather turns cold again, and now Jerry’s got a problem. He needs a place where Onearmedbandit can have the baby. Then he gets this swell idea. The foal’ll be Maryland Million-eligible because it’s by nominated sire Great Notion. But if it’s born in West Virginia, it can run in those pricey WV-bred stakes too. Sorta like a double dip, though Jerry doesn’t call it that.
By necessity out of opportunity, like they say in the horse business.
So he rings up O’Sullivan Farms, the Funkhousers’ classy place up there in Charles Town, and sets it all up. Randy Funkhouser’s son, John, does the foaling. They get Onearmedbandit off the van on Jan. 5, 2014. Baby’s due five weeks later.
Nine days. That’s all it took. On Jan. 14, a month too soon, Onearmedbandit goes into labor.
John knows the drill: A horse born four weeks early needs a wise hand, a sharp eye, a good going-over. Anna’s Bandit, he says, wasn’t sickly or domy-headed – his words – just . . . small.
“It’s not like she was back at the knee or anything like that,” he says. “And I vividly remember her as a foal. She was just a very, very well-put-together filly. Her front legs, through the knees, were straight as you want ’em. Just really, really good angles, good proportion everywhere.”
Gina Robb doesn’t tell it quite like that. “I remember going up to Charles Town,” she says. “She was a little tiny thing, but a brick sh--house.” Said it just like that without the dashes.
Well, Anna’s Bandit grew up all right. Brown like chocolate with a funny white mark on her forehead, like a guy went to paint a slingshot, then had to lam it quick. Anyway, Jerry did it again, got the filly to win first out. That was Laurel, May 2016. Then Anna ran third in a stake at Belmont, second in a stake at Churchill. Looked like she was on her way.
Outta nowhere, they felt the heat, low on a front leg. You never wanna feel the heat, on a leg, on a street, on a caper. So Jerry calls the vet, and the vet spills lousy. Filly’s got a broken sesamoid. Jerry’s training horses since ’75; he knows the score. Asks the vet can he go over the other front leg. Guess what. That sesamoid’s busted too. But the break looks old, like maybe she did it as a yearling and ran like nothin’s wrong.
A shiv to the side, this news. In the business 40 years, you think you’ve seen it all. Then this kinda sucker-punch, and you remember there’s always more you don’t wanna see in racing.
Vet tries to soft-shoe it, says the old break maybe could heal on its own with a little help. So Jerry hauls her up to Manor Equine Hospital in Monkton. Jim Juzwiak runs the place, injects stem cells in the one leg to help it heal. Second time works better than the first, Jerry says. Meantime, this Dr. J. does surgery to fix the other leg and tells it straight: Don’t count on runnin’ anymore.
Things like this go down, you don’t think about saving a runner, Jerry says. You think about saving a horse. Like he put it, “I wanted to fix her regardless.”
The surgery works – this is the summer of ’16 – and the other leg gets better. Meantime, Jerry and Gina are gettin’ serious, which is like a whole story by itself.
Gina’s dad, Luigi Gino, used to share a Bowie barn with Jerry when Gina was just a kid. Jerry watched her grow up. Now, Luigi was older – he’s 80, still full o’ pep – and Marisa, his wife, gets him to give up the game and live a little.
So Luigi quits training, goes to Jerry and says, “I want you to take care of my daughter,” as in let her work, teach her right. “No problem,” Jerry tells him.
Now, Gina’s married to the jock Mark Rosenthal when all this goes down. They’ve got kids. Jerry’s married with kids. Gina works the barn awhile, but she’s young and hungry. She moves to track admissions like her mom, then mutuels, PR, gives out tips on the TV handicapping show. Knows her stuff. She has Jerry on the show once or twice. Like old times with a new spark.
Gina gets into training and breeding, starts her own stable, calls it No Guts No Glory. Got some moxie, that one. Now it’s 2017, warm, and all these things start comin’ together: Anna’s Bandit is back gallopin’, and Jerry and Gina are right in stride too, headin’ from one marriage to another. They wind up buyin’, like, 26 acres in Woodbine. Let’s call it Hidden Hill Farm, Jerry tells her, like the place he had in Edgewater. No, she says. Let’s call it No Guts No Glory Farm. Now they’ve got nine broodmares and eight weanlings they’ll break next year at No Guts No Glory Farm.
“Gina’s runnin’ the farm, and I do the track,” Jerry says. “And when I get home, she tells me how to do it.”
Gina and Jerry have opinions, strong ones, and the guts to let ’em fly. Blunt’s the word. Funny too. Somebody sized ’em up once and asked, “How does it work with two dynamic personalities?”
“We get dynamic every other day around here,” Jerry told him. Anyway, by the time Jerry and Gina hook up, November 2017, Anna’s Bandit’s revvin’ pretty good too.
“I took my time bringin’ her back,” Jerry says. “Back then, she had all her conditions, so I had plenty of spots to run her. Worked her nice and easy every week. Babied her. Took forever to get her to the races, then it took two or three races for her to get fit. And then once she started runnin’ . . . “
Fifteen months she goes unraced, this filly, then comes back in the fall with a fourth. Wins an allowance sprint next out. Now, you’d think Jerry’s all upbeat – he’s got her back in form. But that’s not the way he tells it. “Every time she ran, we held our breath,” he says. “Not only the races, workouts too.”
Didn’t matter, guys had his back. Anna’s groom, Roberto Battista, knew her legs and her style. Anna’s jock, Xavier Perez, knew her way of travelin’. Two times a year, Jerry sent her back to Manor for a going-over. And still he’s sweatin’.
Now, Jerry’s not exactly the sweatin’ type. He found the game through his old man, Willard – went by Huggie, like boogey with an H. A meat-cutter, this Huggie, who liked to carve out time for the races. “I would ask to go,” Jerry says. “Sometimes he’d take me. Sometimes I had to hide in the car and wait ’til he was late for the double.”
Out of high school there in Mayo, edge of the Chesapeake, Jerry went to work with dad hackin’ meat for District Hotel Supply. Guy who kept the place and equipment runnin’ was Jim Magill. Called him Mickey. Turns out this Mickey Magill had a couple runners, Thoroughbreds, and a farm around Oxon Hill, near the Rosecroft harness track. Anyway, Jerry and another guy make their way over there, and Mickey shows ’em how to gallop horses. Well, now Jerry’s really hooked. So he goes up to Mickey one day.
Jerry: I think I wanna get my trainer’s license.
Mickey: Do you know how to put a saddle on?
Jerry: Of course I do.
Mickey: That’s all you need to know.
Jerry: What are you talkin’ about?
Mickey: You put the saddle on him, walk him outta the shedrow, and every [person] on the racetrack’ll tell you how to train.
Now, [person] isn’t exactly how he said it.
Well, nobody gives Jerry any lip with Anna’s Bandit. He plays it his way, takes his time, nudges her along. That’s why she came back in September and didn’t try a stakes race till March the next year, 2018, seven starts into the rebound. Closed like gangbusters to win the Conniver easy. Took two more stakes that year, hit the board four more.
Now, Jerry’s walked this tightrope. Remember Little Bold John? Old war horse won 25 stakes, the first Maryland-bred to make a cool million. Jerry kept him together for nine seasons and 105 starts against high-class company. Like, who does that?
Well, Maryland horsemen knew the score and gave Jerry awards for his work with LBJ. The horse’s breeder and first owner, the old lawyer Hal C.B. Clagett – he’s passed now – introduced Jerry at one of ’em. Now, lawyer Clagett could go a distance o’ ground in conversation, and he talks up Jerry with this speech that goes on and on and on, like a loose horse you can’t pull up. Finally he ends it. Jerry walks up, takes the mic and says, “Now I know where Little Bold John gets his wind from.” Place breaks up.
But here’s the thing: LBJ didn’t have surgery at 2. Far from it. Hell, Jerry ran him six times in eight weeks that year, 1984. With Anna, he couldn’t get so bold. Not yet, anyhow.
Then comes 2019. In March, Anna takes the Conniver again, and Charles Town’s Original Gold a month later. By late summer she’s all tuned up and ready to sing. Jerry lets her hit the high notes.
August she wins the Timonium Distaff. September, makes that big swoosh with X-Man, takes Charles Town’s Sadie Hawkins at 1-10.
Like a nice antipasto before the main course, that Hawkins. When Jerry thought about foaling Anna in West Virginia, he was thinkin’ West Virginia Breeders Classics night, Charles Town’s big-money card for state-breds. Well, they bet her off the board again in the $175,000 Cavada, and she won so easy that Jerry put her in the Maryland Million Distaff a week later. Now here she comes again with The Move and takes the Distaff goin’ away.
That made eight Maryland Million scores for Jerry as a trainer, first as owner-breeder. And it kept Great Notion’s streak alive, if you track those things. Northview Stud’s had at least one Million Day winner 11 straight years. Last year, four of ’em got a picture. Now Great Notion’s third on the Million sire list with 17 winners, chasin’ Not For Love and Allen’s Prospect without runnin’ at all.
Anyway, back to Anna’s Bandit. She takes the 2019 Distaff and the Politely after that. Finishes the year with five straight stakes wins. In her best form ever, and still Jerry’s worried and watchin’ like somebody’s tailin’ him.
Meantime, Anna’s carryin’ on like she’s the belle o’ the ball. Come training time at Laurel, she stands over there by the gap for, like, 20 minutes. Just watchin’, surveyin’, X-Man lettin’ her be. Ben’s Cat used to do that too, stand there like some bigshot. Well, OK, he was. Then Anna worked the same routine, and nobody squawked she didn’t earn it.
Come afternoon, she’s all business. Wins one more stake in 2020. But Jerry backs off after three races. Gives her a whole year off. Brings her back this past June. Fifth in a Pimlico stake. Second in a Delaware stake. Next to last in a tough allowance at Colonial. Comes back OK, but Jerry calls in the marker. How many chances can a guy take when one chance too many makes a bust-out? Anna’s Bandit made the finish line at age 7.
“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I woulda hurt her in a race,” he says.
You like numbers? Here’s the book on Anna: 39-17-5-8, $806,655. That kinda paper gets you noticed, gets you friends, gets you made. Hell, they even put her mug on a bag of Legends-brand feed. Well, okay, not her mug–it’s her runnin’ a race. What they call an action shot. You get the picture. Anyway, Jerry and Gina say they’ll breed her next year. They’re still on the lookout for the right match.
That’s what got Dionne Benson, the vet, so fired up. The Robbs coulda run Anna through the year, dropped her in class even, and still had time to breed her. But they put the horse first.
Says Dionne: “To me, it would have been very easy for [them] to say, ‘Let’s start running her in some claiming races and make her competitive in those.’ And I was so happy they decided to retire her when she was still a really competitive stakes mare and really do the right thing by the horse. It’s something, I think, we should celebrate more.”
Georganne Hale, the track exec who knows everybody frontside and back, was just the one to set up this farewell gig. Glad to do it too.
“She’s such a hard-knocking mare, and she won her money the hard way – she didn’t do it in the big-purse stakes,” Georganne says. “The filly tried her heart out every time she ran. Didn’t matter where she ran – she delivered. A filly like that deserves some recognition.”
So now you’re in on the play. Maryland Million, Oct. 23, Laurel Park. You find some ham-and-egger out there itchy for side action, you make a prop bet that Anna’s Bandit’ll go out a winner without even breakin’ a sweat.
Story checks out. You can book it.