Saint Leon has long been considered one of the best sprinters on the grounds at Arlington International Racecourse, but after Saturday’s gutsy victory in the Listed $100,000 Arlington Sprint, the 8-year-old speed demon could be mentioned as one of the best in the country. Sprinting wire-to-wire in a race turned inside-out by a bad break, the son of Stravinsky dueled the length of the stretch with Hogy, eventually turning back the highly regarded graded stakes winner to win by a head under E. T. Baird.
Coming into the Arlington Sprint on one race in 52 weeks was not by design. Boyce had hoped to get a race into the gelding between his seasonal debut and Saturday, but the race didn’t go. “I was able to get two works into him, and that seemed to do the trick,” she reported.
Being so lightly raced over the last few seasons can be attributed to why he is running his best at age eight, according to the trainer. “We’ve taken very good care of him. And, a lengthy winter vacation really helps. He goes up to a farm near the Wisconsin border and just spends time being a horse,” Boyce said.
Sunday morning, the speedy gelding looked like a happy horse in the Boyce barn on the Arlington backstretch. “He’s just perfect, today. I couldn’t be happier,” the trainer stated. “He’s just a remarkable horse.”
As far as what’s in the future for the Margaret Burlingham-owned local star, a freshening and a focus on the fall season are prominent. “I'll sit down with Marge and see what's available. There's something at Keeneland we will take a look at. He seems to run best fresh, so we'll space it out,” Boyce said.
With the manner in which Saint Leon has won his last two races, that fall season could include the biggest race of all for turf sprinters – the Grade I $1,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. “It's certainly within the realm of consideration,” the trainer mentioned candidly. “I think he could be competitive. The downhill turf (on Santa Anita Park’s downhill turf course) is a bit of a concern. The local horses have a pretty big advantage.”
The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is held at Santa Anita this year and is on an about 6½-furlong course (one furlong farther than the Arlington Sprint) that involves a slight right-hand turn in the first quarter-mile while on a downhill slope. “I’m not worried about the distance. He’s won going a mile, so it wouldn’t be a problem. He can place himself very well and if he gets any quarter where he can relax, he goes at least 7/8 (when sprinting),” Boyce stated.
The possibility of Arlington’s top sprinter racing competitively against the best in the nation is not too far fetched of an idea considering his performance on Saturday. In a race that saw his final 3/16 clocked in a blistering :16.84 (.80 or approximately four lengths faster than last year), Saint Leon earned a 120 Equibase Speed Figure – the third-highest turf sprint figure of 2013. By comparison, in the other two similar turf stakes in the nation this weekend, the Grade III $200,000 Parx Dash Handicap at Parx Racing and the Listed $100,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint at Calder Race Course (each with similar fields in terms of quality), produced winners with Equibase Speed Figures of 112 and 117.
Earning a 120 for his runner-up finish, Hogy exited the race very well, according to assistant trainer John Pool. “He bounced back and is feeling good. He was snapping (biting) this morning – so that’s good. He has a little attitude – that’s him. Everything looks good,” Pool reported. “He just had a little bad luck at the start and then down the stretch. He ran a good race. The winner made him drift out and he lost his momentum a little. I think with a little more distance he would have worn him down and won.”
Hogy, a 4-year-old gelding, will now be pointed toward the fall, but no race has been decided yet by owner William Stiritz and trainer Scott Becker. With a win in a graded stakes on the main course at a one-turn mile and a head-loss in a listed stakes in a turf sprint, he has the versatility to keep his options open. “You can't complain because he showed up two big races in a row. He has a bright future,” Pool concluded.
Carl Moore’s Chamberlain Bridge, who was moved up to third after Global Power was disqualified to last for his gate incident, came out of the race in good order, according to trainer Bret Calhoun on Sunday morning. “He came back good and I thought he ran well,” stated the trainer. “I just think he was outrun at the end. There wasn’t a lot of speed to begin with and we had to be forwardly placed, which isn’t his usual style. He probably wants to sit back off and make a run.”
A previous winner of both the Arlington Sprint and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (both in 2010), Chamberlain Bridge was sent off as one of the favorites. As far as his future, the trainer has no immediate plans. “I am not sure. He's got a little age on him. We might need to dodge the top couple,” Calhoun said in regard to Saint Leon and Hogy.
Fourth-placed Cherokee Lord, who was finishing fastest of all at the wire, also exited the race well. “He ran a really nice race. He got in a little trouble, that's all,” said trainer Charlie Livesay. “The jockey was really getting him going at the end and he made up about six or seven lengths. Had he not been knocked around at the beginning, I think he would have run even better.”