05/03/2011 2:43PM

Louisiana Downs: St. John's River brings Leggio back to Grade 1 stakes level

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St. John’s River will be trainer Andrew Leggio’s first Grade 1 starter since Happy Ticket when she runs Friday in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks. Leggio’s stable is based at Louisiana Downs, and back in 2006 he brought Happy Ticket to Churchill for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

It was the final start of her career, and Happy Ticket, who retired a Grade 1 winner of $1.6 million, ran third but was moved up to second via the disqualification of runner-up Asi Siempre.

Leggio, 77, is now back at the Grade 1 level with St. John’s River, who earned a chance at such competition after running second by a half-length, earning a career-high 83 Beyer Speed Figure, while making her stakes debut in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 26.

“She’s progressively getting better all the time,” Leggio said. “She ran a big race in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She was running on the end. A couple of more jumps, I think she would have won it.”

St. John’s River races for her breeder, Dede McGehee, a veterinarian who owns Heaven Trees Farms in Kentucky.

“She foaled Rachel Alexandra,” Leggio said of the 2009 Horse of the Year born at Heaven Tree Farms for breeder Dolph Morrison.

St. John’s River is a full sister to the Heaven Trees-bred Panty Raid, who as a 3-year-old won the Grade 1 Spinster, Grade 1 American Oaks, and the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. A millionaire, the daughter of Include and the Private Account mare Adventurous Di raced for Glencrest Farm and was trained by Todd Pletcher.

Leggio has trained horses for McGehee for about five years. One of the first runners the pair had together was the homebred Atlanta Highway, who captured the $100,000 Stonerside at Lone Star Park in 2007.

“She breeds some nice horses, some quality,” said Leggio.

St. John’s River won a maiden special weight at Fair Grounds in her two-turn debut in January. She then missed by a neck in a first-level allowance before closing fast in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She will pick up an additional sixteenth of a mile Friday in the Kentucky Oaks.

“It will be in my favor, the mile and an eighth,” said Leggio. “She just gets started running when she goes a mile.”

Leggio said St. John’s River, who has raced just four times, has many good qualities.

“She kind of glides over the track with ease,” he said. “She doesn’t pick up her feet very high. She’s really put together well and just does everything right. She’s all business when she goes out there.”

Rosie Napravnik, who was aboard for the maiden win, has the mount from post 13.

Wasted Tears nears return

Wasted Tears, one of the nation’s top turf mares who was freshened following her second-place finish in the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood Park on Nov. 26, is nearing a return to the races, her trainer, Bart Evans, said on Tuesday.

Wasted Tears breezed six furlongs in a bullet 1:14.80 at her Lone Star Park base April 30, and Evans said she is penciled in for a start in the track’s Grade 3, $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff on May 30. She has won the one-mile turf race twice, in 2009 and 2010.

“We’ve penciled that in,” Evans said of the start. “We’ll just see. That’s kind of the obvious; walk out of your stall and run. That will probably be a starting point if everything goes well.”

Evans has been pleased with how Wasted Tears has been training for her return.

“She’s seems to be happy doing what she’s doing,” he said. “She’s progressing forwardly. She seems to have settled right in and picked right up where she left off. I think the rest did her some good. And now she’s kind of happy to be back, back in a routine training.”

Wasted Tears, 6, won four graded races last year, including the Grade 2 Mabee at Del Mar and the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland.