By Jimmy Goldenberg
This is the busiest time of year for trainer Wesley Ward.
In addition to managing his 68-horse racing stable split between Florida and Kentucky, he also has 36 yearlings to break.
Oh, and then there’s the Breeders’ Cup—where he is very optimistic about the chances of his turf sprinter Undrafted.
Ward is sending Undrafted and Star Empire to Santa Anita in Arcadia Calif., for races on Nov. 5.
Belinda Bateman’s colt Star Empire will run in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade 1) at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. Undrafted owned in partnership by former NFL star Wes Welker and Sol Kumin will run in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (Grade 1) at five furlongs.
Undrafted finished fifth in that race last year at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Ward is expecting a “respectful” performance from Star Empire, who was bred in Great Britain. His main concern is that the horse is coming into the race off a short rest.
Star Empire finished second in the six-furlong Futurity Stakes (Grade 3) at Belmont on October 15.
Tyler Gaffalione rode Star Empire in the Futurity and gets the return call in the Breeders’ Cup. Gaffalione led Gulfstream Park jockeys in wins during this year’s summer meet. While Ward may be reserved in his expectations for Star Empire, his confidence in Undrafted is overwhelming. “Undrafted wins…He’s feeling so good he can’t stand himself,” Ward said.
Johnny Velazquez will ride the six-year-old, multiple-stakes winning gelding.
In early 2013, Undrafted finished third in three dirt stakes races at Gulfstream. Those races were the Gulfstream Park Derby, Hutcheson (Grade 2) and Swale (Grade 3). In 2014, Ward converted Undrafted to sprinting on turf. Ward’s top two-year-old Stonestreet Stable’s Lady Aurelia will not be racing in the Breeders’ Cup.
Ward explained that the Group I winner is purely a sprinter and there is no race that fits her preferred distance.
If all goes as planned, the Scat Daddy filly will return to action at Keeneland in the spring before heading back overseas to Ascot to run in either the King’s Stand or Commonwealth stakes.
Ward has trained two Breeders’ Cup winners. Those victories were by Judy the Beauty in the Filly and Mare Sprint (Grade 1) and Hootenanny in the Juvenile Turf Sprint (Grade 1).
Ward will maintain his dual training operation throughout the winter competing at both Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. and the Champions Meet at Gulfstream.
Although he has a reduced number of yearlings this year, Ward is still excited about his prospects for 2017.
“There looks to be some talent in the group so far,” he said.
Note—Jimmy Goldenberg, a former thoroughbred trainer, is national correspondent for HorseRacingFLA.