Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Friday, August 2, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/02/2013 #

In Today’s Notes: Arlington Sprint Star Saint Leon Crusades to Kentucky; Jockey Thornton Ready to Return

Arlington International Racecourse’s resident king of the turf sprint, Saint Leon, is on the road Saturday at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky.  Margaret Burlingham’s 14-time winner will take on Grade I-placed Rothko from the barn of Steve Asmussen, as well as a host of others in the 7th running of the $36,500 Coup Handicap over 5½ grassy furlongs. 

Trained by Arlington veteran Michele Boyce, the son of Stravinsky has won the last two editions of the Arlington Sprint, including a superbly impressive victory on July 6 over the well regarded graded stakes winner Hogy. 

“He is currently at Ellis now,” reported Boyce.  “He’s feeling well and he came out of his race in super order.”

From a barn known for its calculated and conservative approach as much as its success, it is a surprise to see Saint Leon back in four weeks – especially with only two starts in the last 13 months.  That, according to his able conditioner, is by design.  “He’s not only training awfully good and looking sharp right now, but we are trying to find out if he will be a good shipper.” 

Boyce and Burlingham have their eye on a couple of bigger prizes down the road, and a good ship-in performance in a salty small stakes by the 8-year-old could speak volumes to them about the immediate future of a horse who is running speed figures as fast as any sprinter in the country. 

“If he does well, we’ll look at the Parx race, but there are some good horses there,” Boyce continued.  The race in reference is the Grade III $350,000 Turf Monster over five furlongs at Parx Racing in greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A successful eight-hour trip to Ellis Park could mean an attempt at a 12-hour trip on Labor Day to Parx, where he could meet divisional leaders Ben’s Cat and Tightend Touchdown – the latter is the only turf sprinter to run a faster Equibase Speed Figure (124) than Saint Leon (120) in 2013. 

Success in both events could lead to Saint Leon being considered for the Grade I $1,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November.  Being both a mature age and at the top of his game, it is definitely under consideration by his connections.  “He was a late developer.  He’s eight, now, and he is just so sharp,” Boyce explained.  “He puts a lot into his races, but they don’t particularly take a lot of out of him, oddly enough.  If we don’t run him now, he has only a couple races this summer and then he’s done for the year.  In this race, we’ll learn a lot about where to go from here.

“He has some nervous energy to him in the stall, but is an easy horse to train (on the track).  He’s pretty much himself.  He is calm when he’s training and he will work just about any way you want him to.   I want to see how he feels when he gets into a new environment.  The only way you find out is to do it yourself and get out there away from home court,” Boyce continued. 

Saint Leon breaks from the rail in the 11-horse field, carries 124 pounds under the handicap conditions – giving between two and 15 pounds to his 10 rivals – and is 3-1 morning line favorite.  Those 124 pounds include jockey E. T. Baird, a journeyman Boyce has previously stated “fits ‘Leon’ like a glove.”  The Arlington jockey will make the trip down from Chicago and has been aboard Saint Leon for much of his success. 

“Having E. T. go is a big deal and definitely went into the decision-making process.  We don’t know how their course plays – it’s a new experience for me, too – and he will help tell us how ‘Leon’ handles it,” Boyce explained.  “There are some good horses there – it’s trying something new – but I’m confident.”

Jockey Tim Thornton, after suffering multiple injuries in June – including two skull fractures and a broken humerus – is back working horses in hopes of a return to action soon.  “I was on a couple (Thursday) morning.  I hope to be back sometime next week,” Thornton stated. 

Since the Canterbury Park spill, the 26-year-old native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, has recuperated well.  He is expected to go to work soon for clients such as trainer and owner Louis Roussel III, and will still be represented by Jimmy Ernesto.  Before the spill, Thornton had a record of 14-12-12 from 95 starts (15% win) and $312,074 in purses earned.