The past decade, trainer Wesley Ward has made an international name for himself shipping swift turf sprinting juveniles to Europe to compete in Group 1 company, making history along the way multiple Royal Ascot and Deauville Group 1 wins.
This year, while he had his fair share of success abroad, Ward also has the added bonus of the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in his homeland. The cherry on top is it taking place in Kentucky at Churchill Downs, just 76 miles from his base of operations at Keeneland.
“I think it’s great to have a place for these horses to run,” Ward said. “We had horses like No Nay Never and Lady Aurelia in the past and now those types of horses have somewhere to point to at the end of the season.”
Ward has taken advantage of such and trains four of 14 in the field — all fillies taking on the boys — in the 5 1/2-furlong affair worth $1 million. All four, not surprisingly, were part of his team taken to Royal Ascot in June, but only one of them was successful: Breeze Easy LLC’s Shang Shang Shang, who defeated the males in the Norfolk Stakes.
Unraced since, the Shanghai Bobby daughter is a perfect 2-for-2.
“We had a few minor foot issues that held us back from our starts after Royal Ascot,” Ward said. “We had her in at Saratoga and had a bruising of a foot. Then she had an abscess pop out that was bruising. She’s trained really well since, but unfortunately couldn’t fit in a prep. She’s certainly very talented and very fit now. She had a really sharp gate work (on Oct. 4) and came back with multiple turf breezes.
"She’s vulnerable on soft going, like I said before Ascot, but she has an outstanding rider in John Velazquez (post seven). She should be forwardly placed.”
The race that Shang Shang Shang missed was the Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 15, which Ward filled out the Top 2 slots with Marcus Stables’ Stillwater Cove and Hat Creek Racing’s Chelsea Cloisters. Stillwater Cove was dominant that day, finishing strongly to win by 1 ¾ lengths under Irad Ortiz Jr., who rides again from post four. One effort prior, she a troubled 13th in Royal Ascot’s Albany Stakes,
“She handles the soft turf well,” Ward said. “She has one of the fastest figures in the race when she won with authority at Saratoga. If she repeats that race, she’ll be very tough.”
Chelsea Cloisters was considered by many to be Ward’s best chance at victory before Royal Ascot and was sent to post as the 3-1 favorite. It was not meant to be for the daughter of First Samurai, as she finished 11th (beaten only 2 ¾ lengths). She returned two weeks later in France to finish second in the Prix du Bois, her first of three consecutive runner-up efforts leading into Friday.
Last out, against the boys in the Indian Summer at Keeneland, she lost by a neck to Strike Silver, whom she meets again. Tyler Gaffalione picks up the mount from post nine.
“At Ascot, she unfortunately did not get away well and was stuck and intimidated behind horses,” Ward explained. “She did not lose by much and that spurred me to run her at Deauville, where she ran a beautiful race on short rest. She came back home and ran a valiant second to Stillwater Cove at Saratoga and then came back to just be beaten by Strike Silver last time. After the race, she thought she won. She’s done everything right and the best thing about this filly is that she relishes the soft turf. That’s a big factor coming to a big race like this.”
Another who garnered some buzz before Royal Ascot, but disappointed, was Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Moonlight Romance, who checked in 13th at a well-fancied 7-1 in the Windsor Castle Stakes. She returned on Sept. 8 to dominate the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint by three lengths.
“She came back to validate her favoritism at Royal Ascot when she won at Kentucky Downs,” Ward said. “What happened to her in England is a horse lost a shoe at the gate and she was stuck behind the gate and got really hot and excited. We gave her ample time to get over that mentally and physically and she won with authority at Kentucky Downs, running a beautiful race. She prefers the firm ground, but she has some decent works over soft turf.”
The daughter of Liaison once again has Jose Ortiz in the saddle and breaks from post six.
“All the draws for all four were just fine,” Ward concluded. “They all have good tactical speed and can send or sit off the pace.”