03/25/2016 11:26AM

After more than 45 years, Andrew Leggio calls it a career

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Barbara D. Livingston
Andrew Leggio Jr., who trained Grade 1 winner Happy Ticket, is handing the reins to his son Nick.

NEW ORLEANS – Andy Leggio Jr., who has been a trainer for more than 45 years and probably is best known for developing the Grade 1-winning Louisiana-bred Happy Ticket, will retire when this Fair Grounds meet ends Sunday.

After running the Louisiana-bred claimer Hey Meestermeester in the 10th race, Leggio, 82, will hand the reins of the stable to his son Nick.

“It’s been a good run for me,’’ Andy Leggio said. “Can’t complain. Had some great owners – Stewart Madison, Dr. Glen Warren. He started with me more than 25 years ago; Stewart, about the same time.’’

Through Thursday, he had won 907 races from 6,264 starts (14.5 percent) in a training career that began in 1970. Leggio was to run one horse Friday and another Saturday.

Happy Ticket, a 2001 foal by Anet who was owned and bred by Madison, raced from 2004-06, winning 12 of 20 starts and running second six times. With career earnings of $1,688,838, she ranks second to Star Guitar ($1,749,862) on the all-time Louisiana-bred money list. But her success in top-class company makes a strong case that she’s the all-time best Louisiana-bred.

As a 4-year-old in 2005, Happy Ticket won the Ballerina at Saratoga, giving Leggio his only Grade 1 victory. Also that year, she won the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders’ Cup Handicap and finished second in the Grade 1 Beldame and Grade 2 Princess Rooney. As a 5-year-old mare in 2006, Happy Ticket won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis and finished second in four graded races – the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (promoted from third via disqualification), Grade 1 Apple Blossom, Grade 2 Clement L. Hirsch, and Grade 3 Azeri. She’s the only Louisiana-bred to finish in the money in a Breeders’ Cup race.

Leggio began working with horses at Fair Grounds as age 14 under trainer Odie Clelland. Clelland taught Leggio how to gallop a horse. Leggio recalled going to Kentucky with Clelland in 1948 and watching from the roof at Churchill Downs as Citation won the Kentucky Derby.

“I rode my first race for Odie Clelland right here at Fair Grounds around 1950,’’ Leggio said.

He said he rode in about 20 races. “The closest I ever came [to winning] was second,’’ he said.

After serving in the Marines during the Korean War, Leggio was an exercise rider for several years. He got his trainer’s license in 1970.

Although Happy Ticket clearly is the best runner Leggio trained, he has warm memories of many other horses.

“My all-time favorite has to be Ole Rebel,’’ he said. “He won the Thanksgiving Handicap for me [in 2004]. This is my hometown. I was overwhelmed by that win.’’

Leggio still smiles about a win by the gelding Candid Glen in the Grade 2 Explosive Bid Handicap (now the Mervin Muniz) in 2003 at Fair Grounds. Candid Glen paid $170.20 to win that $650,000 turf race en route to career earnings of almost $1.3 million.

Another Grade 2 win for Leggio came from the filly St. John’s River, who won the Delaware Oaks in 2011. In the Kentucky Oaks, at 16-1 odds, she made a powerful late run to finish second, a neck behind Plum Pretty. Leggio proudly displayed a picture of that finish in his barn office.

Another of his favorites was the female Louisiana-bred turf standout Sarah Lane’s Oates, who won 21 races, including 15 stakes.

Nick Leggio, who has assisted his father for 35 years and has 117 wins as a trainer, said Andy’s success was due to “patience and good owners.’’

All of the owners are sticking with Nick, Andy said.

“He knows as much as me or probably more,” Andy Leggio said. “They all like him.’’

One of the owners is Andy himself. He’s a co-owner of several horses and is involved in breeding.

Nick joked about what it might be like to train for his father.

“You know how those owners are,’’ Nick said. “They all think they’re trainers.’’