By BRIEN BOUYEA, Communications Officer
When C.V. Whitney decided to send a string of horses to the West Coast he did plenty of research into finding the proper trainer. After weighing his many options, Whitney selected Robert Wheeler, an ex-cowboy and rodeo star. Whitney, as he usually did, chose wisely.
“If a horse has anything at all, turn him over to Bob Wheeler and he’ll bring it out,” Whitney once said.
Wheeler enjoyed tremendous success working for Whitney and numerous other major stables, including J. Rukin Jelks, Greentree Stable, and Nelson Bunker Hunt, among others. In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Wheeler conditioned 56 stakes-winning horses, including Hall of Famer Silver Spoon and champion Track Robbery.
Born on June 21, 1920 in Crawford, Neb., Wheeler took a job in his teens breaking yearlings at Woolford Farm in Missouri. Among the horses he worked with was Lawrin, the 1938 Kentucky Derby winner. Wheeler worked for Woolford for five years before riding broncos and bulls on the western rodeo circuit. Injuries forced him to give Thoroughbred training a try.
Wheeler won 1,336 races from 1938 through 1992. He won 10 stakes with the filly Silver Spoon, including the 1959 Santa Anita Derby. Wheeler repeated in the Santa Anita Derby in 1960 with Tompion. He also conditioned Bug Brush, winner of six stakes as a 4-year-old. Bug Brush set a world record for 1⅛ miles in the 1959 San Antonio Stakes. Bug Brush and Silver Spoon won back-to-back runnings of the Santa Margarita Handicap in 1959 and 1960, respectively, and combined for 14 stakes victories at Santa Anita in those two years.
Other significant races won by Wheeler horses included five runnings of the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, three editions of the Santa Margarita Handicap and Santa Anita Oaks (formerly the Santa Susana Stakes), and two victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Del Mar Oaks.
The success continued for Wheeler as the years and decades passed. During the late 1970s, he won a total of 17 stakes with the fillies Taisez Vous and B. Thoughtful, including back-to-back runnings of the Grade 1 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita. He guided Track Robbery to the 1982 Eclipse Award for older filly or mare and he was still active in the game when he died in 1992. At the time of his passing, Wheeler ranked fifth all time in stakes wins at Santa Anita.