Robert Cline Likes Where He’s At

“It’s really all I’ve known,” said trainer Robert Cline when asked how about his origins in horse racing. His father Leon was a trainer for years, primarily in Arkansas, and when he passed away Robert’s mother Donna trained as well. “We cut our teeth for years [at Oaklawn],” he said. In those early years it was Louisiana Downs, a couple of hours south, with all the purse money and crowds. Now Oaklawn in Hot Springs is the winter gem of racing in the middle of America. Cline is amazed at the changes as he has been “watching my hometown track blow up. They’re building new barns, a hotel at the seven-eighths pole.”

The make-up of his stable has changed as well since he saddled his first starter in 2015. While he still owns and trains many “Arky breds”, he has new owners, “Really good owners” in his estimation. “When you get horses that can run, it changes things,” he said. In an occupation that requires hands on seven days a week, having a barn of runners makes that work a joy. “It’s hard to look good with a slow horse and hard to look dumb with a fast one,” he says. This summer he has 23 horses in Shakopee.

One of the best thus far is 5-year-old mare Best Kept Secret owned by Tracy Hersman, who recently won the Minnesota HBPA Distaff Stakes, providing Cline and jockey Kelsi Harr, Cline’s fiancé, with their first stakes winner. “That was Kelsi’s first, my first, the owner’s first, the filly’s first. What a great way to start the meet,” he said. The next target for Best Kept Secret may very well be the June 23 Lady Canterbury Stakes.

Cline credits trainer Larry Jones for influencing his career, giving him “a leg up”. He spent a lot of time around many really nice horses and learned much along the way, working for Jones for several years.

Cline has an easy way about him. A smile and laugh that makes a visitor feel welcome in his barn. He speaks with a distinctive Arkansas accent, using colloquialisms and imparting wisdom and appreciation that is rare for a 37 year old. “I like where I’m at,” he said, not necessarily referring to barn D-8 on a humid 90 degree morning but more likely his life path: A fiancé that shares his passion, a 9-year-old daughter, and a stable of fast horses.

When he affords himself downtime, Cline enjoys fishing and hunting in Arkansas where he has a farm in Norman that bumps up against Ouachita National Forest. Days off are to be cherished in the racing business. “I don’t have many but I dream about them,” he laughs.

Kelsi Harr Makes A Dream Come True

By Rebecca Roush

Growing up around horses, Kelsi Harr had always “dreamed of becoming a jockey,” but she always saw that idea as being “a little far-fetched,” she said. After her father purchased a horse for her when she was just 5-years-old, Harr took every chance she could to work with and ride horses. She later took up barrel racing at local rodeos. “I couldn’t get enough of it,” Harr recalled.

Harr’s mother was walking horses at Oaklawn Park when Harr began attending college in 2010. She was invited to hot walk and work with the horses part-time. Enamored with the atmosphere, Harr made the decision to change her career path and take on the job full-time that winter. It was at the track that she met her now fiancé, Robert Cline, a horse trainer at Canterbury Park. She continued to take on various jobs at Oaklawn over the years before making the decision to begin her professional riding career weeks ago at Canterbury Park.

Her first career mount also brought Harr her first win while riding Bandit Point on June 17, Father’s Day. “It was a very special moment,” Harr said. “My dad was here cheering me on and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off my riding career.” The 25-year-old rider credits her father for piquing her interest in horses and says it “all started with him.”

Being new to Minnesota, Harr says she enjoys the area and finds it a good place for her daughter, Lacey (6) to be. “Everything I do is for that little girl,” Harr said. Harr plans to stay riding at Canterbury for the meet and then head back to the family’s home in Arkansas when school starts up for Lacey.

Having the ability to work with the horses before riding them is something that Harr believes gives her an advantage. “By working in the barn and being around these horses as much as I am, I really get to know them,” she said.

In the days leading up to a race day, Harr says that there is a lot of excitement while things come together in the barn. “It really gives you something to look forward to,” Harr commented. “There is a lot of energy in the air as everyone anxiously hopes that the horse does well.”

Since receiving her first horse Harr has had a “love for the animals and a passion for riding,” she said. “It took me a while to realize that this could all be a reality, but I am sure glad that I did.”