11/20/2006 12:00AM

Hal Wiggins: Patience is the watchword at this barn


The old-school stopwatch could not have suited him any better, he said.

"I'm an old-school trainer," he said.

That he is. Wiggins, who will turn 64 on Nov. 30, is not the type of trainer who juggles hundreds of horses, or who makes the backstretch rounds with a cell phone constantly in use. He trains a modest stable of around 35 to 40 horses, retains his clients for years and years, and tries to maintain his horses in top form for just as long.

In his case being "old-school" does not suggest being behind the times. Wiggins has won or shared training titles at Keeneland and Kentucky Downs, and has won 35 stakes races in his 30 years of training.

His strategy for success: patience. He has learned to think long-term with his horses, particularly when dealing with young horses. When presented with a minor ailment with a horse, "You have to stop immediately," he said. "It pays dividends in the long run."

It is reflected in lengthy careers of some of the top horses he has trained, most notably in Chorwon, who made over $1 million and was a graded stakes winner as an 8-year-old. Other Wiggins-trained runners have had productive careers, such as Morris Code, who won 15 of 37 starts and over $745,000, and Leo's Gypsy Dancer, a winner of 7 of 21 races and $457, 263.

His current stable is also filled with stakes runners. Some of his better horses include Call the Kitty, who ran third in the Grade 3 Arlington Lassie earlier this year; Swingit, winner of the Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland last month; and Cielo Gold, a dead-heat winner of the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park Oct. 7.

Typifying Wiggins's long-term outlook, all three are getting time off from racing to recover from minor injuries. Cielo Gold had chips removed from both of his front knees, and Swingit and Call the Kitty are recovering from cannon bone and stifle injuries, respectively, he said.

He said all three would return to training around the first of the year, and would likely return to action sometime in the spring.

Wiggins said he is looking forward to the 4-year-old campaign of Cielo Gold, who, besides sharing first in the Indiana Derby, also ran second to Bright Gold in the West Virginia Derby during the summer.

"The prognosis is very favorable," he said.

His patience approach is also reflected in the accompanying statistics. Wiggins shows a high return on investment with allowance and stakes horses, seemingly the result of these horses maintaining their form. His second-time starters, second-after-layoff runners, and turf horses are other statistical strengths.

This winter, after racing at Churchill Downs concludes, Wiggins will split his horses between Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La., and Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., keeping 15 to 20 horses in each location. Cielo Gold, Call the Kitty, and Swingit will likely join his Fair Grounds string, he said.

Based on his track record, chances are they will only get better with age.