WESLEY WARD REPRESENTED BY EIGHT BREEDERS’ CUP PRE-ENTRANTS
(Photo: Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Moonlight Romance beat the boys in the inaugural $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint. Grace Clark/Reed Palmer Photography)
Keeneland-based trainer Wesley Ward said eight horses he trains have been pre-entered in the Nov. 2-3 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs. All are fillies and mares.
Breeders’ Cup pre-entries will be announced Wednesday at 11:30 a.m..
Ward’s contingent includes six starters in the inaugural $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at 5½ furlongs Nov. 2: Hat Creek Racing’s Chelsea Cloisters, Steven Michael Bell’s Dragic, Breeze Easy’s Mae Never No (IRE) and Shang Shang Shang, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Moonlight Romanceand Marcus Stables’ Stillwater Cove.
Ward said his other Breeders’ Cup pre-entrants are Happy Like a Fool, who was pre-entered in the TwinSpires Sprint (G1) and the Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) on Nov. 3 for owners Merriebelle Stable, Michael B. Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier; and Kent Spellman’s Kirby’s Penny, pre-entered in the Filly and Mare Sprint.
He is excited about participating in the new Breeders’ Cup race.
“It’s a fantastic race,” Ward said. “At this time of year, for the most part, I’m kinda looking to give them a break because there’s really nothing for a 2-year-old turf sprinter. (This race) has opened up a lot of opportunities not only for me but for the Europeans. It should be a really good, exciting race.”
Shang Shang Shang has not raced since June 21 when she won the Norfolk (G2) at Royal Ascot in England. Ward said Shang Shang Shang would have her next work at Churchill.
On Tuesday morning, Moonlight Romance and Stillwater Cove worked in company over a turf course labeled as good. (Click here for a video of the work.)
Working on the outside, Moonlight Romance started a length behind Stillwater Cove with the duo finishing on even terms. Moonlight Romance was timed in :49.80 for the half-mile and Stillwater Cove :50 with a final quarter of :23.20 for both. They galloped out five-eighths in 1:03.
Also working for Ward on the dirt was Kirby’s Penny, who drilled a best-of-six 5 furlongs in :59.20.
WINNING ENVELOPE DOING HER BREEDERS’ CUP WORK AT KEENELAND
Lothenbach Stables’ Winning Envelope was pre-entered for the $1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), according to Neil Pessin, who has been overseeing the 2-year-old’s training here for Chris Block.
“She was a private purchase after she won her first race at Arlington by 6 lengths in August,” Pessin said. “She won in hand and under wraps, and she is a More Than Ready (a successful turf sire). Chris had been watching her a couple of months before she ran.”
Off the maiden win, Winning Envelope was favored in the Arlington-Washington Lassie, which also was run on the all-weather track and finished fifth. In her grass debut, she won going a mile at Churchill Downs by 4¾ lengths on Sept. 29.
“She came here after she won at Churchill,” Pessin said of the filly who has had two half-mile works on the dirt here. “She probably will work again here Saturday and then ship to Churchill Sunday.”
Trainer Mark Casse said Lexus Raven Run (G2) winner Shamrock Rose was pre-entered for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1). Owned by Conrad Farms, Shamrock Rose was supplemented to the race.
Casse has five horses pre-entered for the Breeders’ Cup. Those stabled at Keeneland are Strike Silver, winner of the Indian Summer, for the Juvenile Turf Sprint; and War of Will, fourth in the Dixiana Bourbon (G3), for the Juvenile Turf (G1). His other runners will be Wonder Gadot (Distaff-G1) and 2017 Commonwealth (G3) winner Awesome Slew (Dirt Mile-G1).
“SPEC” IS STARTER TO THE STARS AT KEENELAND
Keeneland fans see a lot of Starter Robert Lee “Spec” Alexander, who heads the team that loads Thoroughbreds into the starting gate for the afternoon races and presses a button to open the doors when they are still and focused. In the mornings during training hours, Alexander and his crew school horses in the gate.
Alexander, a lifelong horseman, knows an exceptional Thoroughbred when he sees one.
When a bright chestnut 2-year-old colt arrived at the Keeneland starting gate one summer morning in 2017 for fundamental lessons, Alexander knew the youngster would be a superstar. The colt, sold for $500,000 at Keeneland’s 2016 September Yearling Sale, at the time was with Keeneland-based trainer Rodolphe Brisset. A year later with trainer Bob Baffert, he made headlines as undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify.
“The good ones just stand out from the others,” Alexander said, describing the intangible qualities of superior racehorses.
Like many young horses at Keeneland during the summer, Justify honed the starting gate skills required for racing under Alexander. Lessons begin with a horse and rider walking through the gate before continuing their daily exercise. In subsequent visits to the gate, a horse learns to stand quietly while awaiting a quick getaway.
Most Thoroughbreds master the technique of entering, standing and sprinting out of the starting gate in just a few classes while others need remedial education. Alexander and his crew are patient regardless of each animal’s ability. Thoroughbreds are known to have incredible memories, and Alexander knows they will not forget a bad experience in the starting gate.
“Horses only know what we teach them,” Alexander said, noting that teaching horses good manners is easier than undoing bad manners.
Alexander said he is mindful of the time and money people have invested in racehorses, so he treats each animal as if it were his own. He also capitalizes on his crew’s diversity as knowledgeable horsemen when an equine student needs extra attention.
“I’ve learned over the years that one person will get along with a horse and another person won’t,” he said. “I have really good horsemen on my crew and they work together.”
From Versailles, Kentucky, Alexander began his career in the 1950s as an exercise rider for Claiborne Farm’s yearling division, and he subsequently gravitated to racing. One of his most memorable mounts is champion Ridan, who won Keeneland’s 1962 Blue Grass and was third in the Kentucky Derby.
Alexander began working on the starting gate as an assistant starter in 1961 at Atlantic City Race Course in New Jersey, and he became an assistant starter at Keeneland in the 1970s. He has been Keeneland’s head starter since 1981.
Despite his high-profile position during the races, Alexander said he is most comfortable early in the day where the starting gate is positioned at the 4½-furlong chute on the far side of the Grandstand. This is where seasoned runners perfect their departure skills, where impressionable youngsters progress in their classes and where Alexander is both mentor and pupil.
“My favorite part of working for Keeneland is developing young horses,” he said. “And every day I learn something new. I have been doing this a long time, but I don’t know everything.”