07/31/2013 3:12PM

Sonny Wigginton, former trainer, dies at age 78

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Jesse “Sonny” Wigginton, a trainer for more than 40 years who regularly raced in Kentucky and Arkansas, died Wednesday morning in a hospital in Lexington, Ky., according to family members and friends. Wigginton, who had been battling Parkinson’s disease, was 78.

Funeral arrangements were just starting to be made late Wednesday, according to Wigginton’s wife, Lydia.

Wigginton was a staple at Keeneland and Oaklawn, where he kept a 10 to 12 horse stable up to 2011. The operation was turned over to his longtime assistant, Dean Ward, when the fight against Parkinson’s became too intense, Wigginton said in a 2012 interview with Daily Racing Form .

“You run out of racetrack, but the game goes on,” Wigginton said at the time.

Ward, who was Wigginton’s assistant for more than 20 years, said the trainer’s list of stakes winners included Gold Spring, with whom Wigginton won the Grade 3 A Phenomenon at Saratoga in 1993. Wigginton also won the Aristides with Gold Spring, who was imported from Argentina. Ward said another stakes winner for Wigginton was Flying Continental, with whom the trainer won stakes at Arlington, Ellis and Turfway in 1992.

Ward said Wigginton was an owner in the 1950s who turned to training in the 1960s. He also said Wigginton served in the Korean War. Wigginton’s kind nature and horsemanship won him the widespread respect of his peers. “He had more friends than he had enemies on the racetrack,” said Ward.