07/17/2009 12:00AM

Baird reaches 2,000-win plateau


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - E.T. Baird's hands never have been in question. It's his head that sometimes has gotten in the way.

Baird won for the 2,000th time in his career Friday at Arlington Park, guiding favored Bond Street to victory in the second race, a $10,000 claimer.

"I should be closer to 4,000 if I hadn't taken so much time off," Baird said last Saturday evening.

That remark came at the end of a remarkable day, with Baird winning five times on Million Preview Day, including victories in three stakes, two of them of the six-figure variety. He scored in the $200,000 Arlington Sprint aboard Yankee Injunuity, giving that horse an ideal ground-saving trip, and won the Arlington Handicap aboard Just as Well, coming from near the back of the pack with a perfectly timed ride.

Just getting the mounts on those two horses shows how things have fallen into place this meet for Baird. Jesse Campbell had been riding Yankee Injunuity but took off to ride favored Chamberlain Bridge in the Arlington Sprint; and trainer Jonathan Sheppard would have sought out Julien Leparoux for Just as Well had he not decided to come to Arlington with the horse after Leparoux already had made a commitment.

But that kind of good fortune, coupled with some excellent riding and an association with agent Michelle Barsotti that began this past winter in Florida, has landed Baird atop the Arlington standings. After win No. 2,000, Baird had 54 so far this Arlington meet, giving him a nine-win lead over second-place Junior Alvarado.

"Baird is the best rider here right now," said longtime Chicago trainer Hugh Robertson, who gave Baird the mount on Bond Street, one of three winners Baird has recently ridden for Robertson.

All this is happening for Baird at age 42. The son of the late jockey Bobby Baird, E.T. became a professional jockey in 1985 and won the Hawthorne riding title with 103 victories the next year. But his career arc, like many a rider, has followed a wandering path. In 1999, for instance, Baird won only 16 races, and it is only in recent seasons, and thanks in great part to owner Frank Calabrese, that Baird's pure talent, which close observers saw all along, has turned into sustained success. In 2007, Baird won 121 races, and he is well on his way to a surprising Arlington riding title this summer. Baird has long been known as a master of riding on the lead, but he can do far more than that as evidenced by his ride on Just as Well.

"He's straightened up his act now," Robertson said. "He shows up, doesn't take off horses."

After his breakthrough afternoon Saturday, Baird kept it humble, played down his success, and kept things real.

"Put it this way," he said. "I've been doing this for 25 years. I'm just happy to be here. It's a roller-coaster ride."

Yankee Injunuity heading to BC

Yankee Injunuity was just about on his way back down to the claiming ranks last fall. Now, he may be on his way to the Breeders' Cup.

The 5-year-old horse had won his maiden for a $40,000 tag and had started one other time with a price on his head in a $50,000 conditioned claimer at Tampa. Yankee Injunuity had been running all right, holding his own in overnight turf-route stakes, but he wasn't making hay in that kind of race and was out of allowance conditions.

Before figuring out exactly what claiming level to try, trainer and co-owner Jim McMullen gave Yankee Injunuity one look in a turf sprint last October at Hawthorne.

"We were just covering all the bases," said McMullen, the nephew of Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson.

And a good thing, too. The horse won at odds of 33-1 that day and has found new life going short on the grass. He came within a half-length of speedy Chamberlain Bridge at Indiana Downs earlier this summer and wore him down Saturday with a fine victory in the $200,000 Arlington Sprint. That race was a Breeders' Cup Challenge Win and You're In race, and McMullen said the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint was a long-term goal for his horse.

"That's our big target, and we're looking back from there," McMullen said.

Win Willy on the comeback trail

Win Willy, winner of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn earlier this year, has recovered from a hairline fracture in his leg and on Thursday posted the second breeze of his comeback at Arlington Park. Win Willy went an easy half-mile, and a return to the races remains well off in the future, said Hugh Robertson, who is training Win Willy at Arlington for his son, trainer Mac Robertson.

Win Willy finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby and was ready to be entered in the Kentucky Derby when the injury was diagnosed the week of the race. The fracture did not require surgery, and Win Willy was walked for 45 days and galloped 30 days before hitting the work tab, with X-rays taken at regular intervals.

"As far as plans, I don't know," Robertson said. "That's Mac's horse, and I'm just helping him out for now."

Mac Robertson stables for the summer at Canterbury Park.