04/26/2009 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Hal Wiggins


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For most of his 30-plus years of training, Hal Wiggins has rarely garnered much national media attention. That isn't the case any longer.

As the trainer of Rachel Alexandra, the favorite for Friday's Kentucky Oaks, Wiggins has captured the media's gaze this week, and horseplayers, too, should now take notice of a talented old-school horseman.

Sift through Wiggins's statistics and you will find that his runners often perform well in their first start under his care; when making the second start of their career; and when moving from turf to dirt or turf to synthetic surfaces. His 2-year-olds also consistently win at a high percentage, and Wiggins is known to be dangerous with longshots in the claiming ranks.

Yet despite his strong statistics with juveniles, his first-time starters often need a race. Even Rachel Alexandra did.

On the Churchill backstretch Monday morning, Wiggins said he felt excited about her chances when she made her debut at Churchill Downs last May. But she broke from the inside post in a 4 1/2-furlong race, and things did not go her way. She broke slowly and raced greenly on her way to a sixth-place finish.

"We were so disappointed," Wiggins said.

Not much disappointment has followed. She improved second time out, as many Wiggins-trained runners do, winning a maiden race in fast time at 12-1 odds, and then ran second in the Grade 3 Debutante June 28 at Churchill Downs.

Around that time, owner Dolphus Morrison began to receive offers for the filly, a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro. According to Wiggins, a deal was reached to sell her to IEAH Stables, but when a vet examined her, a chip in her left front ankle was discovered, and the deal was off.

For Wiggins and Morrison - who would later sell a part interest in the filly to Michael Lauffer - the non-sale proved fortuitous.

Morrison had sold You as a juvenile to Edmund Gann in the summer of 2001, and with the filly transferred into Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel's barn, she would go on to become a multiple Grade 1 winner with earnings of over $2 million.

Rachel Alexandra stayed with Wiggins, and she went to renowned equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage to have her chip removed.

After several months off, Rachel Alexandra closed out her fall 2-year-old year with 2 victories from 3 starts, including a score in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill. And this year she is perfect in three starts, all in stakes.

Although Wiggins does not have another horse like Rachel Alexandra in his barn, her success typifies his training and management. He doesn't rush horses, gives them the time to get over minor setbacks, and in general they tend to have productive careers.

Wiggins, 66, a native of Port Arthur, Texas, said in over 30 years of training he has found it is best not the force the issue with horses.

"I'm old time," he said. "You have to be patient. I learned that a long time ago."

The next-best horse in his stable is Abbott Hall, who will run in the Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs Friday on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. She won the $100,000 Happy Ticket Stakes at Louisiana Downs last year, and was a close fifth in the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland April 16 in her seasonal debut.

"I thought it was a very respectable race," Wiggins said.

Other Wiggins-trained horses likely to soon see action at the Churchill Downs meet include Betty Bye, the runner-up in a maiden $30,000 claimer at Churchill April 25; Cielo Classic, fourth in a starter allowance at Keeneland April 24; Duke off Pearl, second at Oaklawn against $20,000 nonwinners-of-three stock April 9; and High Spirit, who closed to be third over Keeneland's Polytrack April 24 in starter company.