Arlington-based conditioner Mike Stidham became the first horseman at the local oval’s 2012 session to saddle three winners on a single program Wednesday and that training triple moved him into a tie for the lead in the trainer standings entering Friday’s racing program.
In spite of that three-win afternoon and his newfound status as Arlington’s co-leading conditioner, Stidham downplayed his chances of earning the first training championship of his career at the end of the season.
It has been an interesting career for Mike Stidham, 54, born in Neptune, New Jersey, as the son of former jockey and trainer George Stidham. He worked for his father in south Florida and began training on his own by taking some of his father’s horses to Florida Downs on the west coast in 1978. Early in 1979 he saddled his first career winner. After moving to California in the early 1980s to train for Max Gluck’s Elmendorf runners, Stidham returned to Florida to work for the LaCroix family’s Meadowbrook Farm.
Stidham’s first graded stakes winner came when Manzotti captured the 1988 John B. Campbell Handicap and that horse went on to win the Trenton Handicap and Canterbury Cup later in the season.
His first Grade I stakes win came when Two Altazano won Belmont’s 1994 Coaching Club American Oaks. That filly also took down winning honors in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Sam Houston Oaks, Monmouth Oaks and Marie DeBartolo Oaks that year.
For the last several years, Stidham has based his operation at Arlington during the summer months and at Fair Grounds during the winter, with additional horses stabled on the New York circuit and at Delaware Park.
A plethora of Arlington stakes wins came for Stidham in 2010 when he won the first two legs of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple with Estrorace’s Workin for Hops when that sophomore captured the Arlington Classic and Grade II American Derby, Darley Stable’s Tizaqueena won the Grade III Arlington Matron, Stone Farm et al.’s Upperline won the Grade III Arlington Oaks and Feel The Thunder Stable’s Gran Estreno captured the Grade III Washington Park Handicap for the second straight year.
Last season at Arlington, Stidham again won the first two legs of the Mid-America Triple when All In Stable’s Willcox Inn won the Arlington Classic and American Derby and Workin for Hops returned to the winner’s circle in the Grade III Hanshin Cup.
Finally, although he now has more than 1,300 wins to his credit as a trainer, one of Stidham’s most cherished racetrack memories came when his father, who had ridden with Hall of Fame jockey Bill Hartack during his own career as a jockey, snuck him into the jockey’s quarters at Churchill Downs immediately after the 1969 Kentucky Derby.
“Bill had just ridden (Frank McMahon’s) Majestic Prince to victory in the Derby, and all the press was crowding around Bill’s locker to talk to him,” Stidham recalled. “I was just a 12-year-old kid, and I was wearing a light-colored tie, but Bill took it and autographed it for me by writing, ‘To My Pal Mike, Bill Hartack.’ I always thought that was pretty special.”
ARLINGTON JOCKEY JAMES GRAHAM RIDES FOUR WINNERS WEDNESDAY
Arlington’s defending jockey champion James Graham rode four winners Wednesday at Chicago’s northwest oval, narrowing current leading rider Francisco Torres’ margin of victories to six entering Friday’s twilight racing program.
The 33-year-old native of Finglas, Dublin, Ireland, became the second jockey this season to ride four winners on a single program, joining Tim Thornton who accomplished the same feat exactly one week earlier.
Graham’s Wednesday win quartet began in the opener with a hard-fought nose victory aboard Hondo Ranch’s Autumn Splendor for trainer Frank Kirby. He followed that with three wins aboard horses trained by Mike Stidham, taking the sixth race with Peter Redekop’s Larry Zip, the seventh with Stone Farm and Joseph Sutton’s Islet and the finale aboard Old Sangreal Racing’s Only Exception.
ARLINGTON’S JACKPOT HIGH-5 POOL HITS SIX FIGURES FOR FRIDAY
Arlington’s JackPOT High-5 pool has swelled to $101,299 for Friday’s twilight racing program, available to one and only one single ticket holder should that individual be the only person to correctly pick the first five finishers of the last race of the day in their correct order.
Earlier this month, one lucky bettor cashed a JackPot High-5 ticket worth more than $1.1 million – an all-time record Arlington payout.