Few Thoroughbred owners probably love their horses as much as Margaret Burlingham. A lifelong equine enthusiast, Burlingham imbues her racing endeavors with compassion for the animals she adores. That care shines through, especially for gelding Saint Leon. Now 9 years old, Saint Leon reeled off his third consecutive win in the Arlington Spring Stakes, run at five-and-a-half furlongs on the turf, on July 5.
Wisconsinite Burlingham is a Midwestern racing fan, through and through. “I guess I was interested in horses since being a little kid, and I grew up very close to a harness track in Illinois and I could actually hear the race calls through my window as they raced at night in the winter,” she said.
For Burlingham, who lives about 75 miles from Arlington Park, location was key. She first dipped a toe into the racing waters by entering a partnership with local franchise Dare to Dream Stable, purchasing 2% of three different horses. She noted, “Well, I wanted a partnership where I could see my horses frequently and go to the barn and learn about racing...the original trainer was Rebecca Maker and I’m still in contact with her, and she’s great.” Added Burlingham, “I want my horses where I can see them. If they’re in California or New York, I’ll never see them, since I don’t live there.”
One of the runners Burlingham co-owned with Dare to Dream was Saint Leon. The partnership lost him in a claiming race, but Burlingham wanted him back, saying, “There was something about his eyes” that entranced her. Enlisting trainer Michele Boyce, whom she met when searching for a retired racehorse to turn into a pleasure mount, Burlingham eventually brought Saint Leon back into her fold as sole owner. After the injured gelding had surgery and a year to recuperate, “he came back and won four races in a row.”
Since then, Saint Leon has become a mainstay at Arlington. Burlingham described him as “one focused racehorse. He knows when he’s going to the main track.” As long as he enjoys racing, Burlingham will keep the gelding running. She added, “He loves it. He loves Arlington. His jockey for the Sprint this year (E.T. Baird) said the second he stepped out on the track, he knew he was going to win.” When the horse won the Sprint for the third time, Burlingham was in shock, thinking to herself, “It’s like, I cannot believe this,” and calling her horse “unbelievable.” To date, Saint Leon has won 15 of 34 starts and earned $370,122.
Another standout for Burlingham, who runs her horses in the name Oak Rock Racing, has been Happy Henrietta. Last October, Burlingham bought into the now 8-year-old stakes-winning mare, also a Boyce trainee. “Henrietta” has won nine times from 44 starts and earned $331,706 to date. There’s also Katie the Lady, whom Burlingham also co-owns as of last October. She noted, “A week after I bought into her, one-sixth of her, she won the $100,000 Illini Princess Stakes (at Hawthorne), so that was pretty exciting.”
With Katie’s retirement, Burlingham might expand into breeding. This is Katie’s last year on the track; so far, she’s garnered nine wins from 20 starts and $335,865 in earnings. Burlingham said she’ll leave the choice of mate for Katie to Boyce and another of the mare’s owners, Jack Barr. “I’m going to leave those decisions up to them, but this is going to be my first foal, if she gets in foal, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Burlingham’s love for horses doesn’t stop at the track “I’m a fan of all racehorses, not only my own,” she said, adding that these animals “are not disposable…they deserve a chance.” She works with Illinois Thoroughbred rescue organization Galloping Out; in May, she adopted Knight Fighter from that group to be a companion to her 10-year-old gelding, Royally Robbed. Now inseparable, the retired twosome joins Salty Celebration, a former Boyce trainee that Burlingham purchased as a riding horse, as another post-racetrack success story.
In addition to her many equine successes, Burlingham is an active member of TOBA. She was eager to learn about her longtime passion. “I wanted more education. I wanted to learn everything I could.” She first attended a clinic at Prairie Downs and has since attended numerous pedigree and conformation clinics, which she described as “just wonderful.”
When she visits Kentucky for these educational opportunities, Burlingham relishes visiting farms and seeing old friends she’s made at other clinics, saying, “It’s really wonderful for making connections and I’ve learned a ton.”