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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (8/16/09)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
Arlington-based trainer Steve Hobby posed in the Saratoga winner’s circle late Saturday afternoon in upstate New York, but was back in Barn 21 at Arlington early Sunday morning for training hours, recalling how Alex and Jo Ann Lieblong’s Telling had upset the Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational at The Spa the previous afternoon as the longest shot on the board.
“It was the owner’s decision to run in that race up there,” said Hobby without hesitation. “I was thinking of running him in the Rossi Gold (Aug. 1) here and then coming back in the (Grade III) Stars and Stripes Handicap (Sept. 7) like we did last year, but the owner called me a couple of weeks ago and asked me how the horse was doing.
“I told him, ‘He’s doing great – he feels like winning right now – and he needs a win right now,’” said Hobby. “So then he said, ‘Well then, let’s go. Let’s take a shot up there.’
“The race went perfect for us,” said Hobby Sunday. “There was a hot pace up front early – they were going way too fast – so the jock (Javier Castellano) eased him back out of it. Also, the closers were way back, and when a seam opened up for our horse, he just took off. It couldn’t have set up any better for us.”
How did a Chicago-based trainer get the services of a New York-based jockey like Castellano, considered one of the best grass riders in the nation?
“Actually, the owner did that, too,” said Hobby. “After the race, everyone was surrounding me, asking me why we decided to run there and I said: ‘The owner did that.’ Then they asked me how we got Castellano, and I said: ‘The owner did that.’ Finally, I didn’t want to dumb myself down too much, so I added: ‘But I did a real good job getting him ready!’”
Hobby, 53, was born in La Harpe, Illinois, but raised in Colorado. After a four-year career as a jockey, he turned to training in 1976 and has been a regular on the Chicago circuit in the summer and fall and at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park during the winter and early spring.
Wife Metzi, who works right alongside him at his Arlington barn, accompanied the horse up to Saratoga earlier last week while Hobby caught an early Saturday morning commercial flight to upstate New York to be at the race. He was supposed to fly back to Chicago on a commercial flight, too, but he missed his plane.
Leiblong, who keeps his own private plane on his farm in Conway, Arkansas, flew up with his wife Jo Ann for the race. He ended up dropping off Hobby in Chicago on his way back to Little Rock.
“On the flight back,” Hobby said, “he told me he’d make a deal with me that any time I won a Grade I race for him, he’d fly me home.”
Also accompanying Metzi Hobby on the trip to the Sword Dancer was their daughter Karie, who had just quit her job at Outback Steakhouse and had some time on her hands.
“We decided to make a family vacation out of the whole trip,” said Hobby. “It was the first time any of us had ever been to Saratoga. I wish we could have stayed longer.”
It was also the first Grade I win of Hobby’s training career, although he has won Arlington’s Grade III Modesty Handicap and Grade III Arlington Matron with Belle of Cozzene and Grade III Singapore Plate (now the Arlington Oaks) with Sue’s Good News. Entering Sunday’s race day, Hobby had saddled 13 winners at the current meeting.
“All of the sudden, this is a great year for me,” said Hobby. “What a difference one race can make!”
Lee Battaglia and James Divito’s Coach Jimi Lee, who returned to training earlier this year as a 9-year-old following a brief retirement, continued his comeback as a race horse with a strong runner-up finish in Saturday’s $75,000 Prairie Meadows Sprint.
“The old boy is still a fighter,” said DiVito, who doubles as the gelding’s trainer, when encountered during training hours Sunday morning. “He still wants to do it. He’s still got it as a race horse. He just can’t run on Polytrack.”
Coach Jimmy Lee won the Prairie Meadows Sprint for the first time in 2006.
The entire Arlington Park family wishes to extend condolences to its legendary retired bugler Joe Kelly, whose wife Maxine died earlier this month in St. Augustine, Florida.
The Kellys were married for 48 years.
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