07/07/2012 7:19PM

Arlington: Saint Leon takes it up a notch with Arlington Sprint victory

Four-Footed Fotos
Saint Leon, ridden by E.T. Baird, hangs on to win the Arlingtion Sprint.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – It has been a long, winding road for the gelding Saint Leon. A one-time $5,000 conditioned claimer at Mountaineer Park, the 7-year-old made the first stakes start of his career in the $100,000 Arlington Sprint on Saturday, and he won it, leading from start to finish under E.T. Baird.

Saint Leon popped the gate and outsprinted Birdie Beats Par for the lead, turned back a challenge from 2011 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Regally Ready at the top of the stretch, and then held off a sustained late bid from 2010 BC Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge.

Chamberlain Bridge ran well in defeat, rallying resolutely after breaking in the air and spotting his competition several lengths at the start. Regally Ready, though, turned in his third straight disappointing performance. After getting thrashed in a pair of straight-course sprint stakes in Dubai, Regally Ready had the winner in his sites at the quarter pole but flattened out in the stretch to finish fourth, beating only Birdie Beats Par.

“That race ought to wake him up,” said Corey Nakatani, who rode Regally Ready for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Saint Leon was plenty awake, roaring out of post 3 and seizing command of the Arlington Sprint from the start.

“We really caught a flyer leaving there,” said Baird. “I cleared them so fast I was able to drop right over to the fence.”

Saint Leon’s four-length lead at the stretch call was cut to a half-length at the finish, but the aging gelding still won the biggest prize of his life for owner Margaret Burlingame and trainer Michele Boyce.  He paid $9 to win and was timed in 1:03.18 for 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf. Burlingame was part of the original ownership group that campaigned Saint Leon in 2008 and 2009. The horse was claimed away for $5,000, but Burlingame took him right back in his next start, turning Saint Leon over to Boyce.

“She said to give him plenty of time off, start training him, and see how he was doing,” Boyce said. “She just didn’t want to lose him again in a claiming race.”

About one year later, Saint Leon returned at Arlington in a starter-allowance race. He won, ran fast, and embarked on a entirely new phase of his career – one that reached a peak with his six-figure stakes victory here Saturday.