Oklahoma-born conditioner Wes Hawley
’s days of being under the radar in the local training ranks may be over.
The vastly underrated horseman, 49, finished fifth in Fair Grounds’ final trainer standings last season to tie his best local finish recorded several years ago, but with the current session now more than one-quarter in the books, Hawley is in the third spot, maintaining a consistent pace that began when he saddled three winners during the first three days of the meeting.
Entering Thursday’s races, Hawley ranks third in the standings with 13 wins, only one fewer than current runner-up Tom Amoss and only two less than current leading trainer Bret Calhoun. However, with five horses entered in four different races Thursday – all of whom are considered “live” – it is plausible that Hawley could be Fair Grounds’ leading trainer at the conclusion of that nine-race program.
“I’m not bragging, but I think I could win four races Thursday,” said Hawley on Wednesday morning shortly after training hours were concluded. “We’re here with the right kind of conditions at the present time, and I’ve got some owners who are coming in from Florida for Thursday’s races, so it would be exciting for them if I had a good day.
“Also, a lot of the horses that I train I also own by myself or in partnership,” Hawley said, “and that helps me out a lot.”
Last season, when the late, legendary trainer J. R. Smith was inducted into the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame posthumously, it was Hawley – speaking briefly but eloquently – who accepted the plaque on behalf of his lamented mentor.
“I rubbed horses for J. R. for three or four years,” said Hawley Wednesday, remembering his initial years on the race track. “I also worked for several other guys, but I always seemed to go back to working for him again.
“J. R. wasn’t the type of person who would sit you down and teach you things,” Hawley said, “but I always paid attention to the way he did things when I was starting out and I think that helped me a lot in the beginning.
“But I’ve also learned a tremendous amount in the last few years of my career,” Hawley said. “I have 36 horses here this year, whereas last year I had about 30 and maybe 22 the year before that. When you only have a few horses, you maybe tend to push your horses a little more than you should because every race means everything to you. I’m not saying I still don’t want to win with every horse I saddle, but the pressure isn’t as great when you have more horses. Nevertheless, when you finish with a lot of seconds or a lot of thirds it can get frustrating because you’re so close and you still want to win every race you can. But if I can stay close in the trainer ranks throughout the season and end up in the top five again, I’ll be excited about it. It does give you a sense of pride.
“The best horse I’ve trained in my career so far was Dawn After Dawn, who I trained for Ike and Dawn Thrash,” Hawley said. “I took her to Kentucky and finished third in the (Grade I) Ashland and then fourth in the (Grade I) Kentucky Oaks with her behind Rags to Riches, but then they sent her to California to take advantage of the synthetic surfaces out there. That’s just the nature of the business. I would say the best horse I have right now is Promise Me More (co-owned by Hawley in partnership with Holt Racing and Robert Orth). I think she has a tremendous future.”
Promise Me More, by More Than Ready out of Aly’s Vow, broke her maiden at first asking in a $50,000 stakes race at Louisiana Downs and is nominated to Fair Grounds’ $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes Jan. 19 as part of the Crescent City oval’s Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone.JOCKEY JOSE RIQUELME: FG’S MASTER OF $100 WIN PRICES
One year ago at this time, jockey Jose Riquelme, born in Arquipa, Peru, became a citizen of the United States, and this winter in New Orleans’ land of opportunity at Fair Grounds, Riquelme is making the most of his opportunities.
Although he has ridden only 77 mounts through Sunday, and has won with only three of them, it is worthy of note that two of those winners paid in excess of $100.
In Sunday’s finale, Riquelme guided Morris Angelle’s Brackinknowsall to a two-length tally and a $112.20 win payoff for trainer Melvin LeBlanc, and on the first Saturday of the season Riquelme won the second race of the day with Oakwood Stable’s Thunder Chop for conditioner Andrew Ney and a straight price of $104.60.$75,037 PAYOUT IN SUNDAY’S BLACK GOLD 5 AT FAIR GROUNDS
Based largely on Brackinknowsall’s win in Sunday’s Fair Grounds finale, one lucky ticketholder received a payout of $75,037 following Sunday’s last race as the only person with a winning ticket selecting all five winners of Sunday’s final five Fair Grounds races on the same ticket. It was the largest Black Gold Five payout of the current season.