Hockey and horse racing intersected Saturday afternoon at Arlington Park.
First there were the two-minute warnings before the start of each of the 11 races on the Arlington card, featuring Blackhawks staples — the playing of Chelsea Dagger and the blaring of the goal horn — announcing to fans that racing was soon to begin.
Then there was the moment just after the featured race, the $100,000 Arlington Sprint, when track announcer John Dooley urged fans in the grandstand and along the apron to turn around and take a gander up toward the suite level.
And when they did, what did they see?
Why a smiling Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville proudly holding the Stanley Cup over his head of course.
It was bedlam.
And just like the Hawks refusing to quit when they were down 3-1 in their series against Detroit, 8-year-old Saint Leon showed similar tenacity in the Arlington Sprint when he was engaged by Hogy, a horse half his age, about an eighth of a mile from the finish line.
Instead of ceding things to Hogy, the front-running Saint Leon, with jockey E.T. Baird aboard, just dug deeper along the rail and held on to win the 5½-furlong turf dash by a desperate head.
“He’s unbelievable … all heart,” owner Margaret Burlingham said. “I’m sure (down the stretch) he gave Hogy the evil eye.”
Burlingham wasn’t the only one impressed by Saint Leon, who broke sharply out of the gate, led heading into the stretch, and then somehow found another gear in the shadow of the finish line.
“My horse has a good kick, and I was really surprised that that horse kicked, too,” said Chris Emigh, Hogy’s jockey. “I thought I could outkick that horse — thought I had a really good chance.
“He gave it to me, but it wasn’t enough to get by.”
Saturday’s win made it back-to-back Sprint titles for the lightly raced Saint Leon, whose back story includes being claimed by Burlingham for $5,000 at Mountaineer Park in 2009 and then being turned over to trainer Michele Boyce, who would determine his future.
Instead of possible retirement, though, Boyce worked patiently with Saint Leon, and the veteran responded by winning 10 of 16 races since returning to the track and boosting his career earnings past the $300,000 mark.
The three B’s — Baird, Boyce and Burlingham — were all smiles in the winner’s circle as they celebrated their second Sprint trophy in two years.
“He’s such an easy horse to train,” Boyce said. “He’s a delight.”
About a half-hour later, Quenneville and the Cup found their way to the exact same spot. This time jockeys, track officials and hundreds of fans joined in to celebrate the Blackhawks’ second title in four years.
“I love hockey, and I love horse racing,” Quenneville said, “so it’s a perfect fit.”
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