In the early hours of the morning, when the fog clears and the sun begins to kiss the Saratoga Race Course, you’ll find aunt and niece duo, Heather Smullen and Robin Smullen, breeding a group of Barclay Tagg’s horses.

The days for the Smullens are long.

“The alarm goes off at 4:10 am and I’ll be here at 4:30 am,” says Robin Smullen. “Then we start at 5:30 am. I gallop about seven horses a day. It’s been a long day. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. “

But they don’t mind the work.

“If you’ve always had a horse background, it’s a nice job to fall into,” said Heather Smullen. “In the end you do it and really enjoy it.”

Raised on a horse farm, Thoroughbreds and the Smullens have a synonymous ring.

What you need to know

  • Heather Smullen and Robin Smullen have been linked to horses their entire lives, which makes them valuable assets to Barclay Tagg
  • The duo played a huge role in training Tiz the Law, winners of the Belmont and Travers Stakes in 2020
  • Robin hopes Heather will become a force in the industry in the years to come

“You see things that people don’t see,” says Robin. “Like someone who sells shoes. You will see what everyone is wearing. For us everything is a matter of course. We could see something that nobody would even think of. “

The duo had a huge impact on Tagg’s Stables. Both helped train Funny Cide, the Gutsy Wallach, who was born in Saratoga Springs and won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

But it is their work with Tiz the Law in 2020 that won the Belmont and Travers Stakes they are most remembered for, moments that are even cuter when shared with a close family member.

“Anytime you’re lucky enough to be around good horses, it’s fun, let alone family,” says Heather. “That makes it even better.”

“We’re much closer than just aunt and niece,” adds Robin. “She is a big part of our family every day.”

And while the duo have many years of training and driving together ahead of them, Robin sees Heather as someone who can really make a difference in the sport in the years to come.

“It’s nice to know that hopefully you can pass some of your knowledge on to a younger member,” says Robin. “That’s the best thing about it.”

“It’s amazing,” added Heather. “Not that many people are that lucky, so all I can say is that I am really blessed.”

It takes work, but it’s worth it, especially early in the morning at the spa with the family.