Anna K. Roberts coolly surveyed the good-looking colt as she readied to mount up for a race at Ellis Park.
It was a hot day in Henderson, Ky., and Benziger, a bay brown Thoroughbred, was the 9-5 favorite back in August 2011. But to the young jockey, who was fresh from the North American Racing Academy, the aloof animal didn’t strike her one way or the other; they were there to do a job, and that was pretty much it.
“I liked him well enough in the post parade, but he was just a horse I was riding in a race,” she recalls. “He was very well behaved and really comfortable to ride.”
With what amounts to a mental shrug of her shoulders, they made their way to the starting gate, and moments later, rocketed toward the finish line. And as Roberts felt the colt give a mighty effort that would turn out to be his last on any racetrack, her opinion of him began to soften, to change.
Race name: Benziger
Barn name: Benny
Sire: Malibu Moon
Dam: Stephie Brown Eyes
Foal date: May 5, 2007It would turn out that Benziger couldn’t breathe very well due to a mild problem that appeared aggravated by racing. Though he wasn’t a “roarer” like some horses, nor did he stop dead on the racetrack like other horses with similar difficulties, he toughed it out, dug deep and ran like hell.
“A lot of horses would have stopped suddenly, but he ran as hard and fast as he could,” she recalls. “We ended up 4th that day” and Benziger rose up several notches in the young jockey’s estimation.
Though she did not fall immediately in love with the handsome animal—he was fairly aloof himself— the two started to spend quality time together at his trainer’s farm where he was learning to become a racetrack pony. That’s where one thing just led to another.
“I got bored one day and I wondered if Benny could jump,” she says. “So I set up a two-by-four by the fence, and somehow lunged him over it. And he jumped it decently!”
Intrigued, the young rider started spending more time with him, and suddenly, Mr. Aloof turned into a big puppy dog. “When I went to the paddock, I just called his name and he came running over,” she says. “I learned he had a lot of personality and could be pretty spunky, and the biggest thing was that he just wanted to please.”
She adds, “He wants to do whatever you want him to do. If you wanted him to jump a car, he would try to jump a car for you.”
Since that first leap over a makeshift jump, the pair has trained consistently in Eventing. Benny’s trainer Ronny Werner could see how well suited the pair was for each other, and gave the animal to Roberts.
And now, every day is better than the last as the two shoot for the stars in a sport that seems made for them.
“When we walk out to do cross country, he swells up with excitement” because he is so pleased to be there, she says.
And Roberts is so jazzed by her horse and the sport, that she is actively pursuing a new career in nursing that will afford her the time and funds to pursue something she loves even more: Eventing her off-track Thoroughbred!