Trainer King Leatherbury (second from right) joins elite few winners of 6,000 races.

Trainer King Leatherbury (second from right) joins elite few winners of 6,000 races.

Lydia Williams

At Last! Leatherbury Wins 6,000th Race

(from Maryland Jockey Club release)
History was made Saturday at Timonium when trainer King Leatherbury became only the third conditioner to saddle 6,000 winners as Cherokee Sunrise captured the seventh race on opening day of the state fair meet.

Dale Baird (8,819 wins) and Jack Van Berg (6,334) have registered more winners during their careers, while D. Wayne Lukas is a distant fourth with 4,196 victories.

"We've been waiting for this for so long and it was very exciting to see him make his move at the head of the stretch because it was obvious we were going to win," said Leatherbury.

He took out his trainer's license in 1958 and won his first race a year later with Mister L at Sunshine Park. "It was exciting, but we thought we'd be doing this three weeks ago. We just couldn't win a race at Laurel (0-for-26 at the recently completed summer meet) and it got very frustrating."

Leatherbury has 51 Maryland training titles at Pimlico and Laurel Park on his resume, while his horses have won nearly $52 million.

From 1974-1997 he won or shared 26 of the 35 meets at Pimlico and took 24 of 28 titles at Laurel from 1981-1997.

In his heyday, Leatherbury was one of the "Big Four" of Maryland racing -- Leatherbury, Dick Dutrow, Bud Delp and John Tammaro -- men who dominated the mid-Atlantic circuits during the 1970's. In the mid 1970's, the King had four consecutive 300-win campaigns and was the nation's leading conditioner in 1977 and 1978. He finished in the top three for six straight years (1975-1980).

"I don't know how it happened. The wins just added up over the years," explained Leatherbury. "It is amazing to think that only two trainers in history have won more races. I am honored to be in their company."

The 70-year old earned his stripes with claiming horses but has trained and/or owned some of the better stakes horses in the region, including Taking Risks, who won nine of 12 races in 1994 with five graded stakes victories and grade I winner Catatonic. The University of Maryland graduate also saddled three Preakness starters (Indigo Star, Thirty Eight Paces and I Am the Game).

"When we were really rolling and winning a lot of races we had access to many different owners and that helped," added Leatherbury. "As long as you are winning people want you to train their horses. The danger comes when you stop winning and lose clients. I don't have as nearly as many horses as I did."

The Maryland Jockey Club will honor Leatherbury on Sept. 6 at Pimlico.