By Keith McCalmont/NYRA
USA: Trainer Rob Atras hung his shingle out during last year’s winter meet at Aqueduct and has seen his stable grow to 34 horses strong. With racing suspended, he sits third in the Big A trainer standings with 16 wins from 51 starts.
The Winnipeg native, formerly an assistant to Robertino Diodoro, launched a modest eight-horse stable with the help of his wife, Brittney, a graduate of the Darley Flying Start program.
The couple work together each morning at their Belmont barn with Gilbert, barn mascot and unofficial head of security, while awaiting the restart to a meet stopped by the coronavirus crisis. Gilbert features regularly on Brittney’s Twitter account.
“One thing is for sure, life has not changed for Gilbert,” laughs the trainer. “He’s happy and very well fed.”
The Atras barn was on a hot streak before racing halted at the Big A, hitting the board with five of their last six starters including wins from Sadie Lady, Bossy Bride and Royal Albert Hall.
“I was really hoping to get through these last two weeks of the winter meet,” says the trainer. “We had a lot of horses to run, but I totally understand what had to be done. Racing is racing, but life is more important.”
While business stops across New York State, an executive order from New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo provides additional, specific justification regarding jobs that are essential, including those connected to the stabling and training operations at Belmont.
“Obviously, we don’t know when we’ll be running again, but I’m trying to keep my horses fit and healthy so when we do get the go ahead, we’ll be ready,” says Atras.
The Atras stable now boasts a burgeoning list of owners, and they have made effective use of the claims slip to improve their stock. “There were ups and downs throughout the winter, but overall I think we took a step forward,” says Atras.
“We have a really well-rounded stable now. There’s more quantity but we also have a lot of quality horses now which is what I was aiming for. That’s not to say a lower-level claimer can’t be a quality horse, but leading over a contender every time has always been my goal. We now have a good balance of lower-level claimers up to allowance horses and a few overnight stakes horses.”
Monotony is one of the common annoyances for many households practising social distancing with New York on lockdown. “Usually, we’d have the races to go to in the afternoon and then maybe go out for supper,” says Atras. “But life is getting pretty repetitive now.
“We’re out to the barn in the morning and come straight home in the afternoon for an hour or two and then back to the barn again to feed the horses. It’s only been a week, but it’s getting a little boring.
“We watch Governor Cuomo every day. He does a good job and gives you the facts,” adds Atras. “I’m not a very political guy but he’s sincere and really relates to the people. The changes we make here in New York, which is the epicenter of it all, could change things for the rest of the United States and Canada.”
Like many outfits working hard daily on the Belmont backstretch, the Atras family is looking forward to getting back to racing.
“With all these protocols in place, I really hope we can flatten the curve and see the numbers start going the other way and level off,” says Atras. “Hopefully, everyone complies and we can get back to normal life.”