05/16/2010 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Lon Wiggins

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Although Hal Wiggins retired from training last fall, there is still a Wiggins presence on the Churchill backstretch, and for that matter in the Churchill winner's circle.

Hal Wiggins's son, Lon, who in recent years had based his stable in Chicago over the spring and summer months, has kept up the family's winning tradition at Churchill Downs with a small stable of runners this year, winning with three of seven starters over the first three weeks of the meet.

Lon Wiggins got things started opening day, April 24, when Megawattie won a five-furlong, $40,000 claimer. He picked up another victory four days later when Lady Durlyn triumphed in a $30,000 claimer for fillies that had not won three races. On May 7, Prize Master narrowly won a similar race for the boys.

Lon Wiggins, 41, laughed when asked if he could maintain his current 43 percent win rate for the length of the Churchill meet.

"I think reality is going come around in a hurry," he said.

Perhaps so, but with the backing of some of his father's clients, most notably Dolphus Morrison, the breeder and original owner of defending Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, Wiggins is poised to continue to have a strong Churchill Downs meeting.

Besides his three winners from earlier in the meet, he has a solid late-running nickel claimer in A. J.'s Conquest; another powerful late-finisher in High Spirit, who won twice at Churchill last fall but is unraced this meet; and a new acquisition to his stable, Valtrus, a useful turf and Polytrack performer that Wiggins claimed for Morrison for $40,000 on May 13.

"He seems to like the synthetic," Wiggins said of Valtrus. "So we thought he'd be in good shape this summer at Arlington if a turf race came off" and was run over Arlington's Polytrack main track.

In total, Wiggins now has 11 horses in his Churchill Downs stable, with two juveniles set to join them from the farm when shipped in next week. Those numbers are up sharply from last fall at Hawthorne, when his stable had dropped to three.

Wiggins, who worked as an assistant for his father before beginning his own training career in 1997, said the addition of new horses to his stable provided a needed boost.

It also helped that Wiggins knew many of his father's clients, most notably Morrison. His father would sometimes send some of his horses to Lon to race, feeling such runners might be better suited to the conditions or company in Chicago.

Though the racing at Churchill has been good to Wiggins this spring, he hopes to return to Chicago this summer, provided he can receive adequate stall space from Arlington at a midway point in its meet.

"If not, we'll just stay here and ship," he said.

Wiggins, 5 for 32 on the year, said his training philosophy is very similar to his father's, though he noted there is one big difference between the two.

"He was really good first time off the layoff, and I'm not," he said. "Second time off the layoff, mine will usually be ready."

With that in mind A. J.'s Conquest merits a strong look when he returns. A horse Wiggins re-claimed after losing him for a couple races this winter, he was second after a two-month hiatus May 15 in an open $5,000 claiming race.