When Jerri Robertson says she has a horse in the race during this weekend's 92nd running of the Canadian Derby, the Alberta horse owner and trainer isn't just speaking figuratively.
Smart Play, her three-year-old gelding, will run the biggest race of his life on Saturday, competing at the Century Mile track against 10 other three-year-olds for the $125,000 purse.
The two have been getting ready for the big day in the Devon area where they live and train. At 10/1, the odds are against Robertson's horse but she said Smart Play is ready for the challenge.
"He's probably one of the long shots in the race, just for the fact there's some really tough horses," said the 59-year-old. "But our horse is doing well, he should run a good race. We're just happy to be in it."
Both have had success in the past, with Robertson racking up $4-million in career earnings over three decades of training horses. She is described as an inspiration to other female trainers in what is considered a male-dominated industry.
"I love horses, I love horse racing and I can't think of anything I'd sooner be doing, or anywhere else I'd sooner be," she said.
Smart Play has raced five times in his career, finishing third or better each time, including two wins.
"We raised him from a baby so it's pretty exciting for us to have a horse get this far," Robertson said.
His father, Smarty Jones, won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004. His mother, Smile Again Theta who is also owned by Robertson, earned more than $180,000 during her career, most of it at Northlands Park in Edmonton.
Jockey Antonio Reyes will be tasked with trying to get Smart Play to pace himself during the race.
"It's a long race and he's never run this distance before but we hope he will relax for Antonio so he can carry his speed all the way," Robertson said.
In addition to the longer, 1¼-mile race, Smart Play will also be up against more competition than he's used to.
"He's been a good racehorse up until now but he hasn't seen this many horses in one race," Robertson said. "It's tough competition."
A total of 10 races are being held Saturday at Century Mile, located south of Edmonton in Leduc County, with the biggest draw, the Derby, set to get underway at 7:50 p.m.
"This is the biggest race in Western Canada," Robertson said. "Just to be participating is a big thing."