ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- When asked after today's Arlington Sprint what his strategy was, jockey E. T. Baird had a simple answer: "The strategy was go -- just go." And, go he did with Saint Leon: first out of the gate, first at every call, and first across the wire for the third straight year.
Saint Leon was the only returner from last year's renewal of the Arlington Sprint, a $75,000 listed stakes at five and a half furlongs over the turf. However, the field included several familiar faces from the turf sprint stakes circuit this year. Positive Side was twice placed in graded stakes this year going into this race, with a second-place finish in the Shakertown Stakes (GIII) and a third-place finish in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (GIII), both behind breakout turf sprint star Marchman. Positive Side and Anyriderill Do came straight in from the Jaipur Invitational (GIII) on the Belmont undercard, and Jasizzle last raced in the Aristides (GIII). Tell All You Know and El Seventyseven were first and third in the Honor the Hero Stakes at Canterbury last out, and Liz Pendens came in from the Intercontinental Stakes at Belmont. Only Saint Leon and Law Dog had not yet raced in a stakes this year.
Saint Leon was the 2/1 morning line favourite, and the early money was even more heavily slanted toward him. He opened at 7/5, with Tell All You Know the early second choice at 2/1. Liz Pendens, Anyriderill Do, and Positive Side all were 6/1 in the early money. The field looked as good as a stakes field should, but two of the horses stood out in the paddock as particularly poised to run: Saint Leon and Tell All You Know. As post time drew closer, the odds drifted up on Saint Leon, and down on Positive Side. By post time, Saint Leon was still the favourite, but had settled back to 9/5. Tell All You Know and Positive Side both went off at 5/2, with Tell All You Know the slightly more heavily bet of the two.
When the gates sprung open, Saint Leon wasted no time getting to the front. He quickly staked out a place a length in front of the field, with El Seventyseven stalking on his outside. He set comfortable early fractions for a turf dash: the quarter in 22.92, the half in 45.95. As the field turned for home, Baird asked Saint Leon for more run, and after dictating the pace he had plenty to give. He opened his lead up to about two lengths in short order, daring the field to close up the extra ground. Positive Side, mid-pack early, made his run once the field turned for home. He split Jasizzle and El Seventyseven, shot up along the rail, and got closest to catching Saint Leon. He couldn't quite get there. Saint Leon crossed the wire first, a length in front of Positive Side. The final time was 1:03.45, over turf rated good.
Anyriderill Do and Liz Pendens brought up the rear early, about half a dozen lengths off Saint Leon's pace. They both fired turning for home: Liz Pendens navigating through horses on the inside, and Anyriderill Do clear on the outside. Early stalker El Seventyseven had enough run left late to stay with these two late challengers, and the three all finished between 2 and 2 1/4 lengths behind Saint Leon, in a three-way photo for show. Anyriderill Do took the show, a neck in front of El Seventyseven. Liz Pendens finished a nose behind in fifth. Tell All You Know, Law Dog, and Jasizzle completed the order of finish.
This was the third Arlington Sprint win, and third career stakes win, for Saint Leon, a nine-year-old gelding by Stravinsky out of the Seattle Slew mare Ellejolet. It also improved his record over the Arlington turf course to six wins in seven career starts over the Arlington turf course. This was his first race on the turf at Arlington this season. He has raced twice before this meet, coming in second in two strong six-furlong allowances over the Polytrack.
The story of Saint Leon is a story of two careers. In 2008 and 2009, he raced mainly in claiming races. On July 28, 2009 he was claimed for $5,000 at Mountaineer by owner Maggi Moss and trainer Chris Englehart, though he never raced in her silks. Saint Leon returned to the track on July 2, 2010 to win a starter allowance at Arlington, by then owned by Margaret Burlingham and trained by Michele Boyce. It has been nothing but onward and upward from there. Saint Leon moved up from starter allowances to more difficult company, holding his own against stakes-level mainstays like Nikki's Sandcastle, Tazz, and Big Looie. After winning an allowance at Arlington in May of 2012, he raced in his first Arlington Sprint. It was his first career stakes attempt: and he won on the Bill Daly over two Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint champions, Chamberlain Bridge and Regally Ready. He raced only once between the 2012 Arlington Sprint and the 2013 edition, but the result was the same: Saint Leon got up front, and made every call a winning one. Saint Leon raced a bit more ambitious campaign this year, even making another stakes attempt at Kentucky Downs last fall. No matter what, come Arlington Sprint day, the result was the same: Saint Leon, wire to wire.
When asked to reflect on Saint Leon's rise from the claiming ranks to three-time Arlington Sprint champion, trainer Michele Boyce was matter-of-fact. "He's a cool little horse," she remarked. "When I got him he was injured. I turned him out and said we may or may not bring him back. It would depend on what he tells us. We took it day by day and he's done nothing but improve." When asked whether Saint Leon would be back in the Arlington Sprint next year, she stated, "Who knows? Maybe."
Veteran jockey E. T. Baird, who has been aboard Saint Leon for all three of his Arlington Sprint wins, reflected upon the durability and consistency of the winner. "It's great. He's nine years old. He's like the old man. He just likes to show up. He just loves to run."
Grant Forster, trainer of second-place Positive Side, compared this race to the Shakertown (GIII) earlier this year, in which the horse also finished second. "He ran his race. The winner got away with a couple easy quarters like (2014 Shakertown Stakes winner) Marchman did. (Positive Side) keeps running and we will keep leading over there and keep trying." Jockey Emmanuel Esquivel concurred that the pace may have done Positive Side in. "I had a good trip," he stated. "I had a lot of horse under me, but the winner was going easy. The winner was just too hard to get at the end."
Forster also shed some light on Positive Side's plans for the rest of the season. "We may go to the Troy at Saratoga next. The goal with him is Keeneland in the first week of October."
Saint Leon paid his supporters $5.80 to win. The exacta of Saint Leon over Positive Side paid $20.20 for each $2 bet. The trifecta with Anyriderill Do on the lowest rung paid $27.60 for each $0.50 base bet. The superfecta, adding El Seventyseven on the underside, paid $32.58 for each dime on the combination.
All photography courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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