Trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid, Jr. was still ecstatic hours after his colt Uncle Heavy won by a nose in a thriller in the GIII Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday, February 3. Bred in Pennsylvania by trainer Robert Reid’s sister-in-law Barbara Reid, and with that victory under his belt, the Pennsylvania bred son of Social Inclusion out of the mare Expect Wonderful earned 20 points for the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
“It’s very exciting!” Butch said enthusiastically about the Withers. “It’s been a great day!”
The colt is named after, according to Reid, the ‘original Uncle Heavy, his brother Mark, Barbara’s husband. The horse racing industry and fans were able to watch the birth of the colt live on the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association ‘Foal Cam’ from Walnut Green Farm in 2021.
The trainer, based at Parx Racing, and inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2021, has two Pennsylvania bred colts with their hooves firmly on the path to the First Saturday in May. Along with Uncle Heavy, he has Maximus Meridius, the son of Maximus Mischief, with two wins and a third from three starts, off an easy victory in a $50,000 allowance on January 30 at Parx.
“Uncle Heavy is probably more firmly entrenched on the Triple Crown trail right now than ‘Maxi’ (Maximus Meridius). He (Uncle Heavy) confirmed his spot Saturday, that’s for sure!”
The thrilling win drew gasps from the crowd, as the latest star of the Reid stable nailed ElGrande O, (Take Charge Indy), at the wire. Favorite Lightline finished third.
“It was close!” Butch exclaimed. “He was able to run down a horse in the last stride, so it was very good, but he was a horse that we knew wanted to run all day at a mile and a eighth.”
The long-time trainer is taking his time getting ready for the races leading up to the Triple Crown. “It’s a step-by-step process. Saturday, Uncle Heavy confirmed his spot, so we will sit down pick and everything apart and see where we are going from there.” A tentative start in the Wood Memorial (GII, $750,000) on April 6 at Aqueduct is planned.
With a confirmed case of equine herpesvirus (EHV) at Belmont Park, where the majority of horses who race at Aqueduct are based, some other tracks on the East Coast were not allowing horses who are based at Belmont or who raced at Aqueduct over the weekend to race or return to their facilities for 21 days. Uncle Heavywill remain at a farm 20 minutes away from Parx, but will continue to train and prepare for his next start.
“The farm where he is has a jogging machine so we will be able to keep him limbered up,” Butch said. “He won’t miss a breeze so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Butch has mapped out the next race for his other Triple Crown contender. “Maximus, we’re pretty sure he’s going to be going in the Gotham next (GIII, March 2), one-turn Mile at Aqueduct, which has Derby points attached to it as well, too. But Maximus has some catching up to do. He’s a little behind, whereas Uncle Heavy has been a distance horse, and I’m sure already, fairly sure, that a mile and a quarter will not be a problem.”
Butch started training in 1983, and began his extraordinary career at the old Garden State Park in the state of New Jersey, where’s he has lived most of his life. With a lucrative and successful career spanning over 40 years, do the nerves set in before a race? “I don’t know if it’s getting nervous as much as excited. You’re really concentrating on the details to make sure everything goes right for getting there, so you don’t really have time to get nervous,” he laughed. “There’s plans to be put together, and shipping arrangements to be made, and races to be picked out. I don’t think nervous is the proper term. You get excited when they finally get in the paddock, the horses are tacked up and they’re out on the racetrack. That’s when the real excitement starts to set in.”
He is happy with Parx as his home base. “There’s a lot of advantages to it, especially a guy like myself who is a family man, with my wife and daughter. My daughter is older now and I got my first grandson! Year-round racing is the biggest bonus. We’ve lived most of our life picking up all of our stuff and moving every three months, from different circuits. Monmouth Park to Maryland to Florida to all over the place. So it’s great to be able to call one place home on a year round basis. It’s so close to many other places you could ship to, as we did with Uncle Heavy, and got the money in New York.”
His family is his biggest cheering section, and supports him and his career no matter where the road leads him. “My wife Virginia has been with me through all of it. She actually rode our horses in the beginning. She was our top exercise rider. My daughter Whitney, who is now a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was raised in a tack room half her life. She would sit in a tack room while her mother went out and got on horses and I did the stalls. It’s been a family business from the beginning.”
While most of his horses are out for a break during the colder weather, he will be getting them ready soon for a busy season at Parx, including a lot of fan favorites. “We’ve got Beren coming back, and Smooth B, and also Ninetypercentmaddie, will all be pointing toward the PA Bred Stakes when they come back in April. And for the fillies, we’ve got another bunch of good ones. Morning Matcha, who’s closing in on being a millionaire, another PA bred. And a filly named Disco Ebo, who has made close to $700,000 in her career. They’re on the farm now, freshening up, and they’ll be coming back and training in the next thirty days.”
Looking forward to the season, Butch is thankful for his success, and appreciative of everyone involved with the Robert J. Reid Racing Stable. “It’s a tribute to my owners and my help, everybody pitches in and it’s a total team effort. I’m glad to see everyone get to be a part, and share in some of the rewards. It’s just great that everybody gets to be a part of it.”
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