Don Robinson has deep roots in the Kentucky soil. His grandmother owned 1933 Preakness winner Head Play, second in that year’s so-called “Fighting Finish Derby,” while his father boarded excellent runners at the family’s Winter Quarter Farm in Lexington. Robinson has reared many an excellent runner at Winter Quarter, but is now branching out. Along with boyhood friend Alan Schubert, Robinson races standout turf mare Cambodia, whom he co-bred with late partner Eric Kronfeld of Maverick Productions.
Five-year-old Cambodia has registered three graded stakes wins this year. She captured her last two races, the August 5 Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2T) and September 2 John C. Mabee Stakes (G2T), back to back at Del Mar. “It’s kind of an amazing stroke of manna from heaven, what can I say?” Robinson said enthusiastically. “It was never really a goal; this just happened. I mean, it happened so deliberately and patiently, but I just can’t believe it’s happened. It’s wonderful.”
More than 20 years ago, Robinson’s childhood friend, trainer Mike Bell, worked with an Arizona-based client called Gayle C.C. Stable. That outfit had a stakes-winning mare named Lonely Beach, who was boarded at Winter Quarter. Robinson raised a number of Lonely Beach’s progeny at his farm and noticed they sold well. He recalled, “They had ability and this client eventually, in a fairly short time, passed away. I dispersed the horses, but then ended up seeing them around at claiming prices or back in the sale for not much money.”
Members of this family “were very attractive, well-made horses,” according to Robinson. Lonely Beach produced three stakes winners, as well as Boogie Beach Blues (by Cure the Blues). Winter Quarter sold that filly for Gayle C.C. Stable in 1999, but Robinson bought her back in 2001. From Boogie Beach Blues, Robinson bred the talented Storm Treasure, a son of Storm Boot; for owner Mike McCarty, Storm Treasure won multiple black-type races, finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1), and earned $710,344.
But perhaps Robinson’s most important purchase came by claiming another Lonely Beach daughter, the Known Fact mare Lonely Fact. He co-bred her Arch filly, Overarching, a South African champion, and her stakes-winning Out of Place gelding Dead Red. Robinson later sold Lonely Fact, in foal to Broken Vow, for $45,000 at the 2004 Keeneland sale; Temeraine, a full brother to Overarching, later won the 2013 Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (G3T).
He also bred Sassifaction, Lonely Fact’s 2005 Smart Strike filly. After winning three races, Sassifaction was retired and foaled a filly by then-up-and-comer War Front in 2012, later named Cambodia. Though Robinson sold Sassifaction, in foal to Blame, at the 2013 Keeneland November sale, he still owns her Arch half-sister, Kinda Blue, who is currently in foal to Maclean’s Music. After Kronfeld passed, Schubert bought into Cambodia, whom Robinson recalled was a late developer.
Although she vetted poorly as a yearling, Cambodia was an “attractive, balanced filly,” said Robinson. She stayed on the farm until late in her two-year-old year, though “she never showed any soundness issues.” That served her well; Cambodia has improved with age; if she remains sound and happy, Robinson plans to race her at six. Robinson is ecstatic at her success, saying, “I’ve raised some great horses of other people, which I thought was like the top of the mountain, and this is just a very different and very rewarding experience. I feel like it’s kind of a reward for a passion I’ve had in this career, so that answers it. I pinch myself that I have a horse with this ability. It’s really nice and that I’ve been associated with the family so long, it’s kind of the ultimate breeder’s dream.”
Robinson currently has about 75 horses at Winter Quarter, foaling approximately 20-25 mares per year. The majority of those numbers is boarders, said Robinson, who followed in his father’s footsteps. World War II veteran H. Burnett Robinson first purchased Winter Quarter Farm in 1948, where he boarded many good horses; his son honed his horsemanship on the West Coast under trainers like Buddy Hirsch and Charlie Whittingham. They taught Robinson valuable lessons that proved useful with Cambodia; Robinson recalled, “All the old timers that were around, it was all about time and patience.”
During his tenure as master of Winter Quarter, Robinson has added many photos to his family’s sepia-toned collection of winners’ circle pictures. He foaled and raised the likes of Zenyatta at Winter Quarter, but adding a photo of homebred Cambodia to the aforementioned gallery has been something special. He gushed, “It just gives me chills. It’s just exciting; I feel like [it’s] a way past reward. It’s really neat.”