Trainer Rob Atras. (NYRA/Coglianese)
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Just two live race days remain in 2021 to complete a remarkable year of racing action on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit. The NYRA Press Office checked in with a selection of New York-based racing personalities to get their reflections on a memorable year.
Canadian-born trainer Rob Atras – with the support of his wife and assistant Brittney -went out on his own in 2019 following a tenure working as an assistant for Robertino Diodoro.
The 36-year-old native of Winnipeg, Manitoba has steadily improved his stock over the course of three seasons, enjoying his best year yet in 2021 [336-70-51-51, $3,942,669] by securing his first graded stakes victory with American Power in the Grade 3 Toboggan in January at the Big A, which was followed in March by Chateau’s score in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap. In July, Atras secured his first Grade 1 victory with Maracuja in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course.
How would you describe your 2021 campaign?
Atras: “It’s been a breakthrough year in a sense. We upgraded our stock quite a bit and that showed in the results. We won a couple of graded stakes races earlier in the year and capped it off with a Grade 1 win with Maracuja. We have a bigger barn, but we have a lot of quality in our barn as well. Last year we were in the high 30s and now we have close to 50 horses in the barn.”
Rob Atras and his Hot Walker having a hug after Maracuja’s American Oaks win. (Susie Raisher)
Every trainer’s business model is different – describe yours.
Atras: “We go for quality over quantity and we try to be competitive every time we enter. If a horse can win a race, they’re good at any level in my book. We have some good 2-year-olds this year and we’ve had some owners send us homebreds as well as some bought from the sales – so, we have an all-around stable.
“There’s so many things that go into the success. We have really good exercise riders, grooms and hotwalkers in the barn. Our foreman, Rafael Lechuga, has been with us since Day One. It’s fun to win any race, just to have everyone smile, celebrate and be happy together. They put a lot of pride into their work.”
What was your favorite win this year?
Atras: “We had a lot of winners and a lot of memorable wins this year. But it’s tough to not say Maracuja in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. The whole race was fun. She broke well and then I got to wondering if they were going a little quick. Then seeing her back up [down the backstretch] I was wondering, ‘What’s going on here, are we out of horse.’ But then she starts picking up steam again. In that moment, I was thinking she could at least hit the board, so I felt relieved she wasn’t stopping. Down the stretch, I was just thrilled to be in the race, and then for her to get her nose down and beat a filly like Malathaat is just out of this world.
Rob Atras greeting Maracuja and Ricardo Santana, Jr. after their victory in the CCAO American Oaks July 24, 2021, at Saratoga. (Susie Raisher)
“It was just a real heads-up ride by Ricardo Santana, Jr. In a Grade 1 – under that much pressure – to make the decision to drop back like that was pretty impressive.”
What was it like being featured on America’s Day At The Races?
Atras: “That was neat. It’s a great program and it was cool to be featured on there. My mom and dad watch it, they don’t miss a race. We came into the CCA Oaks as underdogs. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t replicate that in her next race in the Alabama, but that’s alright.”
As someone who maintains a heavy division in New York all year long, what are the benefits of the New York racing and breeding program.
Atras: “If I had some land, I wish I could have a few mares out of New York. They run for great money and have great incentives for the breeders and owners. I think it’s a great program. The quality is there, too. You can see it in the races with deeper fields and this year you get a 3-year-old horse like Americanrevolution to win a Grade 1 [Cigar Mile] against older horses. There’s a lot of nice New York-breds here, for sure.”
2021 American Oaks Replay
What are your goals for 2022?
Atras: “Keep winning! We had a great year this year and I’d love to carry that into next year and build on it. I’m also sending a small string to Oaklawn for the winter. Maracuja will be there and hopefully her first start or two will be down there before she comes back to New York. We’ll bring a few local horses to run in some of the claiming races and maybe pick up some horses to bring back up to New York in the spring.”
The winter meet at Aqueduct returns to action on Thursday, December 30 and continues through Sunday, March 27. For additional information, and the complete winter meet stakes schedule, please visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/stakes-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Aqueduct Racetrack, and the best way to bet every race of the winter meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
Ryan Martin/NYRA Press Office