Training horses is worth singing about for Megan Roberts

Training horses is worth singing about for Megan Roberts

August 26, 2020

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The third generation horsewoman from Brandywine put a career as an MRI Technologist on hold to follow the family passion.

by Chris Lomon

Her vocal stylings may be in need of some fine-tuning, but Megan Roberts’ training talents are top-of-the-chart material.

On this day, Roberts is on the way to Ocean Downs in Berlin, MD. She has four horses ready to test out the competition at the half-mile oval located about two and a half hours from her home in Brandywine.

Joined on the journey by one of her grooms, Angel Nelson, there’s plenty of time for pre-race strategies and assorted horse talk.

Those, however, aren’t the preferred topics of conversation between the pair.

Instead, life on the highways and roads to the racetrack typically include listening to plenty of upbeat music on the radio, with driver and passenger joyfully singing along.

“A lot of times it’s me and Angel on the road, we are in the truck, and we are totally away from talking about the horses and the races when we’re on our way to race,” said Roberts. “It’s just listening to music and talking about other things. But when we get to the races, it’s all about the races.”

Roberts doesn’t dole out high marks when it comes to her singing.

“It’s not good,” she said with a laugh. “It’s definitely something to listen to, but not necessarily in a good way. Let’s put it this way… it’s a bad karaoke night. But you know what? We have a good time. It’s still a lot of fun.”

The same can also be said of a career that’s now in its fifth year.

Born into the business, Roberts’ grandfather, Sam Roberts, was a tobacco farmer who started racing horses as a hobby. Her father William “Bib” Roberts is an accomplished horseman, having enjoyed numerous successes as a standardbred driver, breeder and trainer.

From an early age, Megan shadowed her father at the barn, acquiring more knowledge and more fondness for horses, and horse racing with each passing year.

After graduating high school, she continued her post-secondary education and became an MRI Technologist.

When her father, now 70, became ill in 2015, Roberts jumped in and eventually took over his stable.
If there were any questions regarding her abilities as a trainer, she answered them in quick order.

Roberts first start as a trainer, on Nov. 17, 2015, resulted in a runner-up effort. Next time out, however, she decided to go one better.

“Going out for that first race, it’s like your nerves are all in your throat,” recalled Roberts. “You want to do well and you don’t want to disappoint anyone. You’re trying to prove yourself to everybody.”

Any nervousness she felt in the minutes leading up to the race paled in comparison to how she reacted when the field was sent on its way at the Fort Washington, MD oval.

Although Roberts was pleased with the result in her milestone moment, the competitor in her was hoping for a trip to the winner’s circle.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long for that experience.

All it took was her next start to accomplish the feat, thanks to Caviart Tyler, a son of Dragon Again, who recorded a two-length score at Rosecroft that very same evening.

“You never come down from that cloud nine feeling,” she said. “You always relive that every time you go to the winner’s circle, and I’ve been lucky to get there semi-often. The fact that I went out there and was second with the first horse and won with the next one, I felt like I had a pretty background to lean on. I got to learn from one of the best, my dad, for so many years. It helped knowing that it’s [training abilities] where it all came from.”

Early on in her horse racing role, Roberts juggled two careers, working as an MRI Tech at Southern Maryland Hospital and full-time training at her family’s farm in Brandywine.

She made the decision, an easy one, admittedly, to focus all of her energies on horse racing.

“Dad wanted me to get an education first, to get a background in something else outside of horse racing. In this business, you never know what can happen. I went to radiology school and got my degree. I got my MRI license and certification, and did that for years. Up until about a year before I started training, all I did was MRI. And then my dad needed some part-time help. But when he got sick, I jumped back in, full steam ahead. There was a time I was being pulled in two different directions, so I had to figure out which path I would take. Horse racing, it was something I always wanted to do, and always felt I had to do because it was the only thing I loved to do every single day. Working with the horses, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

Roberts said she has no regrets with the choice she made. The numbers prove she made an excellent one.

In 2015, she posted six wins, along with three seconds and a third, from 19 starts in her rookie campaign. The following year she won 21 races.

Last season was her most successful, across the board. She sent out 51 winners, recorded $378,100 in purse earnings, accompanied by a lofty .343 UDRS.

Although her career is still in its early stages, there have already been a few highlights, including a victory by Fashion Smile, a son of Broadway Hall (PA), who trotted to victory on Nov. 24, 2015 at Rosecroft.

The driver happened to be her brother, Jonathan Roberts.

“I have a big blow-up poster of that win,” she said. “Getting praise from someone who has been driving for so many years before I started training – it was a good feeling. Jonathan is the one who got me the picture and gave it to me for my birthday.”

Roberts, who currently owns six horses, five of her own, and one with fellow trainer Sofia Zingale, points to one horse in particular as her all-time favorite.

Judge Bob, a 5-year-old son of Great George Two (MD), is co-owned by Roberts and Graham Grace Stables. Her father co-bred the trotter who won at first asking on Aug. 20, 2017, at Ocean Downs.

The total purse for the race, $4,000, and a $2,000 payday felt like much more to an emotional Roberts.

“He is a horse that was in the first set of babies that I ever broke, from head-to-toe. He was born on the farm. I was the first person to touch him when he was born, and ever since that day, he has been, literally, my child. He’s 17 hands, and he’s a big, giant weirdo. I think the best day of my life, in this career, was the day he went on the track to win his very first elimination as a 2-year-old.”

Getting him to that point proved to be a monumental undertaking.

“It was a struggle. He stuck his leg through his gate and fractured his cannon bone three months before that day. We swam him, gave him stall rest, we couldn’t train him – it was a nightmare. He was crazy. He has so much athletic ability and so much energy, that it was hard to keep him from hurting himself during stall rest. Trying to get him ready for the eliminations… thank God we did.

“We’re out there during the race, and I’m screaming and yelling at the top of my lungs. Everyone is looking at me like, ‘It’s only $4,000. What are you doing?’ I didn’t care. I had tears running down my face. The moment he crossed the finish line, it’s the accomplishment of my life. He’s my greatest accomplishment. I felt as though, ‘Now I can go out there – I’ve crossed that hurdle – and I know I can be successful at this.’”

It’s certainly something worth singing about.

Or perhaps not.

“With my voice, I won’t be the next “American Idol” winner, that’s for sure. But I’ll be happy singing along whenever we’re on the road.”

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