There is a certain disadvantage that the Breeders Cup brings local riders whenever it comes to Keeneland. Most receive temporary eviction notices, even if they have horses that will race in one of the 14 major races.
Wesley Ward, however, didn’t have to go through this. While so many of his peers had to load up and move to temporary digs on the Rice Road side of the sprawling complex, Ward had to stay put.
Breeders Cup hard-core handicappers on Ron Flatter Racing Pod.
“Right here,” he said. “Even when we train from my tobacco barn, they go down and into barn 68 here, and that’s where the runners go up and down. They come up here, they go to the track and train, they come back, they come down, and then the grooms bring them right back. Even the horses who live in the stable there and come to train, they know this stable very well.
It’s the ultimate home game for Ward, 54, who is perhaps best known to casual racing fans as America’s top ambassador at Royal Ascot each summer. This week he will saddle six horses for the Breeders’ Cup, led by the retired golden friend Saturday in the Turf Sprint.
“He’s such a special horse to be around,” Ward said this week in an interview for horse racing nationby Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “The best I’ve had and undefeated here on grass in the United States in all of his starts. I’m just really excited to get to the Breeders’ Cup.
Retirement to the Coolmore America Ashford Stud of its owner in Versailles, Ky., is on the horizon next week for Golden Pal. At 4, colt Uncle Mo could join Goldikova and Beholder as the only horses to win three Breeders’ Cup races. First in the 2020 Juvenile Turf Sprint and the 2021 Turf Sprint, he became the morning line’s 2-1 favorite to emerge triumphantly.
“I’m going to be disappointed when he leaves the barn,” Ward said. “He’ll be sleeping not too far from where I sleep each night, so I’m going to visit him, giving him peppermints all the time.”
It may not be a routine race on Saturday, with its $1 million purse and implications for the championship. Nonetheless, Ward will try to keep business as usual for Golden Pal, who ran on the same 5 1/2 furlongs of grass last month winning the Woodford (G2) for the second consecutive year.
“We’re just going to drive it straight from the same barn,” Ward said. “We are going to saddle up and I wish good luck to Irad (Ortiz Jr., his jockey). When you’re leading a horse that’s 8 for 8 and going to come out of the favorite here, that’s where you want to be. This is where everyone wants to be. … No pressure. Just excitement.
Ward has three of 14 Turf Sprint starters, also including 4-year-old filly Campanelle (8-1), who won the Ladies Sprint (G3) on September 10 at Kentucky Downs, and 4-year-old colt Arrest Me Red ( 15-1), third that same day in the Turf Sprint (G2).
“Other horses are doing phenomenal things,” Ward said. “It’s great to have all three horses in a race like this. Campanelle is performing very well, especially in Europe (Group 1 winner). She just won a million dollar race there at Kentucky Downs.
“Arrest Me Red is a serious turf sprinter. He has been there in grade 1 races. In Jaipur he was narrowly beaten by Casa Creed who came from afar and had a great trip and beat me in the square with no apologies. Being all three on their home track, they will really jump up a notch.
Half of Ward’s six Breeders’ Cup victories have come in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, where he will seek his fourth straight win on Friday with Love Reigns (4-1). The US Navy Flag filly takes on the boys after taking more than two months off following a $150,000 win at Bolton Landing in Saratoga.
“I like having some spacing with the sprinters,” Ward said. “The more space the better because they put so much money into it. … It helps. When we won last year when I took on Twilight Gleaming, my plan was to go with Campanelle to France and then give her time and race in the Breeders’ Cup in Del Mar. And she did. did, and she won.
Love Reigns was chosen second on the morning line behind The Platinum Queen (7-2), the winner of the Prix de l’Abbaye last month in Paris for trainer Richard Fahey.
In the Filly & Mare Sprint, Ward seeks his second triumph, and his first since Judy the Beauty in 2014, when he sends surprising Test winner (G1) Chi Town Lady in search of another long-range score on Saturday against Ballerina. Handicap (G1) winner of Goodnight Olive (3-1).
“We were lucky,” Ward said the day Chi Town Lady won the test 17-1. “I told the owners (Castleton Lyon) that we were probably going to throw a (long) shot, but I wanted to take a long shot and do what she asked me to do, which was to make a big load and a big job.”
Kimari could also have been in the Filly & Mare Sprint, but Ward decided to send Coolmore’s 5-year-old mare Munnings against colts in the $2 million Sprint. This is where defending division champion Jackie’s Warrior (4-5) proved to be the overwhelming favorite. After winning the Gallant Bloom (G2) on Sept. 25 at the Belmont at Aqueduct competition, Kimari (4-1) was chosen as the second pick.
“I’m just thinking about the distance,” Ward said when asked why he sent Kimari into the six furlong sprint rather than the seven furlong Filly & Mare sprint. “His numbers stack up with anyone, and this being his home track, everyone has to come to his party to dance.”
As great as the home course advantage might be, it hasn’t been an easy year for Ward. In February, his house had 14 trophies stolen, including the 12 he won at Royal Ascot. Eventually they were recovered, but not before being melted down beyond recognition. Ward also lost three horses in a nearby barn fire caused by a lightning strike in March.
Although he was also ruled out during his annual visit to England, Ward said 2022 has been good.
“I’ve won some big races this year,” he said. “The Test at Saratoga and Others. It’s been a great year for me. I have very good horses and very good clients, and my children are all doing very well, and everyone is in good health. If you look at the big picture, as a whole, we are doing a phenomenal job. »
When asked casually if he was just drawing a line this year, Ward was a philosopher.
“Life can’t always be a smile,” he said. “It really makes you appreciate the good times and the good things that happen. It won’t always be roses. … If you get up and go to work every day, and you can’t wait to get back the next day, and you never want to take a day off, what kind of work is that? It’s a dream job.
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