At 23-years-old he’s far from a grizzled veteran, yet Rocky Top Stables’ trainer/driver Robert ‘Bob’ Rougeaux’s performance at the Pennsylvania fairs has already attracted quite a fan base.
“There will be 40 people in the grandstand and 30 of them will have Rocky Top t-shirts on,” said Rougeaux, a resident of Rochester Mills, Pennsylvania. “They are mostly my family and they all enjoy watching the horses race. Family are the best fans to have because if you don’t do well, they are still supportive. You work hard all winter, looking forward to going out there (to the fairs) with your family, spending time with them and racing horses all summer.”
Rougeaux has not experienced too many ‘bad’ days. In three years of training and driving for Rocky Top Stables, which is owned by Rougeaux’s grandfather and Pennsylvania’s 2007 Small Breeder of the Year, Harold Brocious, the young horseman has earned more than $185,000 as a trainer and $120,000 as a driver, competing primarily on the fair circuit. Last year, Rougeaux ranked fourth among the fair’s top drivers with 24 wins and was fifth in the training category after conditioning 21 winners while R T Gizmo, RT Coolart and RT Dandy Lion were all leading point earners for their respective divisions.
“I work for my grandfather, who’s had race horses forever,” explained Rougeaux. “Our main concentration is the fairs, because my pap really enjoys them. We’ve got probably around 60 horses total with broodmares, stallions and yearlings. We go from stage one clear to racing. Most of our horses are homebreds and we have had some good ones, but most of them fit well at the fairs.”
Rougeaux, who possesses an animal science degree from Penn State University, has worked with horses since he was just a kid and knew his profession would be affiliated with the business.
“I started pitching stalls for my grandfather as a kid,” he remembered. “I live about half a mile from the farm and I would ride my bike. It kept me out of parents’ hair and my pap would throw me a few bucks. I knew I wanted a college education and to do something with horses, but after I graduated I wasn’t sure exactly what that was. My cousin Tom and I started training, then I got my driver’s license and I realized I really enjoyed doing this.”
In his opinion, the best part of Rougeaux’s job is scrutinizing a young horse’s transformation from a yearling to a young race horse.
“When you first start breaking them they act like they want to kill you,” said Rougeaux with a laugh. “It’s a challenge but it’s just amazing how they will mature over the four or five months that you work with them. They go from a wild animal to something you can drive around a track and steer. You learn something every time you break a horse because they are all different with different attitudes. Some you can break in 45 minutes and some take three days. January, February and March are kind of boring because all the horses are broken and you just go ride around in circles. The exciting time is training them down in the spring and getting them ready to race. That’s when you see if all your hard work paid off.”
As always, Rougeaux can’t wait for the fair season to begin and while he acknowledges he has some nice young prospects, he prefers to let their performances speak for themselves.
“I’ve got a trotting filly, a trotting colt and a pacing filly I think are going to be good but I haven’t pushed them yet,” Rougeaux said. “I don’t like to brag about them until they are actually on the track and racing. People will always ask me what I have and I say they are all junk. Then I will show up with a couple ringers and they will say, ‘Yeah, right.’ You can’t brag on a horse because if he ends up not making anything you look a horse’s (rear).”
Rougeaux’s goal is succinct.
“Everybody has their dream of having a horse in the Hambletonian but I just want to have horses that race well,” said the young man. “Hopefully I will have more horses like R T Gizmo that win a lot of races at the fairs and the fair final. I always want competitive horses because they are getting faster and faster. As long as our homebreds can keep up with other people’s hundred thousand dollar horses, I’m happy. That’s a pretty good feeling.”
by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
ourtesy of The US Trotting Association Web Newsroom