It’s like rediscovering a lost
local treasure, realizing that legendary Chicago-based horseman Richard
Hazelton is indeed back to training at Arlington Park after a hiatus of more
than a year.
The 80-year-old conditioner
reemerged officially on the local scene when he saddled Asiel Stable’s Heart
Thief to finish fifth in last Saturday’s fifth race at Arlington, but he’s been
a presence in the barn area for several weeks while appearing relaxed,
happy, and enjoying himself.
Although he remains his usual
reticent self, Hazelton is also continuously pleasant, exhibiting a dry,
self-deprecating sense of humor these days while regaling visitors with his
personal history at Arlington
that began in 1951. He can talk easily, for instance, about a tornado
that came through the grounds while he was living in a trailer on the backstretch
“a long time ago” – leaving his trailer untouched while turning the one
immediately next to his upside down and also displacing an iron starting gate
from one side of the infield to the other.
“I’m always happy here,” said
Hazelton this week outside his barn while in the presence of his protégé Carlos
Silva, the former jockey who retired in third-place as Arlington’s all-time leading rider in
2009. “It’s good to be back here again at the barn with my old
friend. He’s going to make it as a trainer. He’s always been a good
horseman all those years he rode for me.”
For his part, Silva is anxious
to return the compliment in spades. “Richard taught me just about
everything I know,” the Chilean-born trainer-in-training said. “I will
never know one quarter as much as he knows. He wasn’t only my boss all
those years I rode for him. He was my best friend. He’s still my
best friend and he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Just ask any trainer who
has been around here a long time.”
Such a trainer would be Spanky
Broussard, who while being interviewed by Hazelton’s television personality son
Scott at Fair Grounds last winter, turned the interview around by asking the
younger Hazelton what else his father possibly accomplish to merit induction
into the Racing Hall of Fame.
Hazelton is easily Arlington’s all-time leading trainer, credited with 1,181
wins at Chicago’s northwest oval, and he was
also honored in Chicago
for reaching the 4,000 career-win milestone in 1994.
Nevertheless, Hazelton, born
in Phoenix, Arizona,
started his racetrack career as a jockey, and was leading rider at Caliente in Mexico in
1945. He started training at 17, and achieved his first training win at Silver City, New
Mexico, in 1948. He captured 17 consecutive
training titles at Sportsman’s Park from 1971-1987 and holds more training
titles at that track than any other conditioner. His 48 wins at Hawthorne in 1986 still stands as that track’s record and
Hazelton also won Hawthorne
training crowns in 1995 and 1996.
However, it has always been at
Hazelton’s star has shown the brightest. He has won Arlington’s training championship eight
times: 1969, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’75, ’81, ’82 (in a tie with Joe Bollero) and
’84. Hazelton’s stakes wins at Arlington
include the 1968 Sheridan
with Good Investment, the 1975 Round Table with Crafty Drone, the 1981 American
Derby with Pocket Zipper and the 1982 Sheridan with Jungle Blade.
In other Windy City
achievements, Hazelton trainee Maxwell G., a Chicago favorite for years,
retired at age 16 after winning 47 of 233 career starts, and longtime local
horsemen remain in awe of his coup in Sportman’s 1984 National Jockey Club
Handicap when he saddled Prince Forli, Full Flame and Spare Card to finish
first, second, and third in that order.
But now, Hazelton has decided
not to rest on those laurels. He talks of the difficulty he had driving
from his Bartlett home to Arlington during a driving rainstorm before dawn last
week, but he talks about it with a smile on his face and he’s obviously still
choosing to make that drive everyday. So you know he still loves the
training game, and like he says – “It feels good to be back here.”
E. T. RIDES SECOND CONSECUTIVE HAT TRICK WEDNESDAY
After riding three winners at Arlington Sunday, jockey
E. T. Baird scored his second consecutive riding triple when racing returned
Wednesday, vaulting him into a tie for the lead in the local jockey standings
with Eddie Perez, who had a riding double on the same program.
Baird’s Wednesday hat trick
began in the second half of the Daily Double aboard Darley Stable’s Wall Dance
for trainer Eoin Harty, and the Chicago-born reinsman came back to the winner’s
circle after the sixth on The Best Is Yet To Come Stable’s Test Market for
conditioner Dale Bennett, and Baird completed his triple astride Margaret
Burlingham’s Saint Leon for trainer Michele Boyce.
Perez won Wednesday’s fourth
on Team Block’s Mavericking, noted for finishing third behind the runner-up
finish of eventual 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in what was the
first start of both their careers last Sept. 18 at Arlington. The
Mexican-born Perez then came back to the winner’s circle in Wednesday’s finale
aboard Silver Wing Stables’ Stig’s Deputy for conditioner Manny Perez.