Trainer and co-owner Bob Leonard lifted jockey Joe Steiner off the ground with an emotional hug after a shocking 71-1 upset by Slane Castle in the fifth race at Hollywood Park May 28, a maiden test for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
Steiner, 46, had not won a race in more than six years. Leonard, who has trained throughout the country, last won a race in California in 1987.
The veteran rider was busy accepting congratulations throughout the stable area the following morning after winning with his 12th mount in a comeback he began this year.
“I’ve been doing a little bit of everything since I hurt my neck and shoulder in a spill at Santa Anita six years ago,” said Steiner. “After the injuries healed, I worked for the Jockeys Guild, then in real estate.
“The last two years I’ve worked horses for Bob Baffert,” continued Steiner. “That got the fires burning to come back and ride. This is a huge passion of mine. Working horses in the morning, putting it all together, and winning in the afternoon is the ultimate.”
Steiner has been friends with Leonard since his youth in Washington state and rode Leonard’s previous California winner, Saratoga Passage, in the 1987 Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.
“We’re from Seattle,” explained Leonard after sending out his first winner at Hollywood Park. “We were at Longacres until it closed down. Joe won a lot of races for us there. His mom and dad, who run the kitchen at Emerald Downs, are dear friends. Joe’s won races for us in Illinois and Indiana as well as Washington and California.”
Leonard managed to juggle a career as an airline pilot with raising a family and traveling the country as a trainer. “I got started in racing in college in 1964 when five fraternity brothers including myself each put up $300 to buy two horses,” said Leonard.
Leonard flew for Northwest Airlines for 30 years from 1966-1996 and has raced at more than 40 tracks in 20 states during his career. Leonard campaigned multiple stakes winner Phi Beta Doc, a multiple stakes winner who captured the Virginia Derby and set a course record for 1 3/16 miles winning the Saranac Stakes on the Saratoga turf.
“Nobody knew us there just like nobody knows us here,” Leonard said. “Slane Castle probably should have been 10-1. She only finished 1 1/2 lengths behind (race favorite) Izshelegal in her last race.”
Leonard has three horses stabled in Hollywood Park’s Barn 53. Slane Castle, a 3-year-old Castledale filly, was making her sixth start.
“That was a rider’s race yesterday, and Joey timed it perfectly,” said Leonard of the photo-finish victory.