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Wesley Ward bio
Ron: This is a Ron Mitchell with BloodHorse.com’s Talkin’ Horses. Today, our special guest is Wesley Ward. As many of you know, Wesley just made a historic invasion of the British racing’s Royal Ascot meet where he came away with two winners.
Wesley, we’ve had a lot of questions as you can well imagine, most of them center around your 2-year-old success and your British invasion. The first question is from Pete M. What made you change your training base from California to Florida?
Wesley: I’ll tell you what; I just thought that there would be more opportunities back here. I spend a lot of time in California and had some success but I just thought, you know, branching out here to the East Coast that there would be a lot more opportunities for me.
Ron: And has it turned out to be that way?
Wesley: Yeah. At first, it was a little scary, but now it seems to have turned around.
Ron: And you are based in Florida, you’ve got strings of horses all up and down the East Coast, is that correct?
Wesley: I live in Florida and I’m based here in a winter time. But in the summer, I try to centralize myself in Keeneland, which is where I keep the base of all my horses. And then obviously now that Saratoga is starting, we’ve moved the majority of them into Saratoga and some into Monmouth.
Ron: Next question.
Tom Z: What is your family like and how do they deal with the lifestyle and work schedule of a trainer?
Wesley: It’s a lot easier in California because you just stay in one place and you have one house and the only time you move is to Del Mar and for that short of a meet, it’s easier to commute. So on the East Coast, it’s a lot tougher because you have to move around a lot. So that’s the reason why I base myself in the winter time and take all my horses down to south Florida to where I’m breaking and training at the farm, and also stabling in Gulfstream and at Calder. I have one home that I live in right here in south Florida. Now, starting in April, when Keeneland starts, and I start moving my horses north, that’s when I have to juggle myself between coming back and forth to Florida because of my family and also my businesses up north.
Ron: Does your family relocate with you to Saratoga?
Wesley: No. I basically keep my family separated from my business; I’m constantly on an airplane going somewhere.
Next question is from Ron: What do you think is the biggest problem in American racing today, and how would you fix it?
Wesley: I tell you what, in going over there (to Britain) for the first time, I didn’t get to see anything other than horse racing. So, everyday I had a runner so we were so consumed with it, I didn’t get out at all to see London or any other parts of Europe. But when we did go out to dinner -- I had seen this wherever we went -- it seemed to be that everybody was in tune with racing as opposed to the United States. So, I think that generation after generation it’s just been bred into them thatracing is just part of their culture; as opposed to the United States, where you have so many different cultures here and so many different things that it takes away from racing. It seems though racing is sort of dying out a little bit, which is very sad, but then you go to a place like England and you see where everybody knows what’s going on and everybody knows the integral parts of the game and all the players in the game.
Ron: So, being in England as you were, it’s almost like going to let’s say, some of our boutique meets – Saratoga or Oaklawn Park – where at those certain times of the year everybody is focused on horse racing but for the rest of the public, really, it’s off the mainstream
Ron: The next question is from Margaret F. : Which is more comfortable – a cowboy hat, a top hot or jockey’s helmet?
Wesley: None of the above. I’m not a hat guy.
Ron: Not a hat guy. Did they have those top hat sizes already pre-fitted for you over there or is it just one size fits all?
Wesley: Yeah, we had to go in and get measured for the morning suit -- I guess they call it that -- and the top hat . The only one that really liked it was my son.
Ron: He thought it was pretty cool, huh?
Wesley: He called it his “fancy clothes.”
Ron: That’s great. The next question comes from Olivia Nicole - What horse that you’ve trained had the most natural talent?
Wesley: I’d have to say the most natural talent that many horses that I’ve trained was a horse named Lifestyle
Ron: And why?
Wesley: Well, he just had – just so much natural ability; it’s unfortunate that he really couldn’t get a chance to show what he can really do. But he was just the most talented horse that I’ve ever trained and just did things so effortlessly that if you ever watched his first two races, he could have been the greatest horse that ever lived if he wasn’t plagued with just a horrendous bleeding problem.
Ron: Can you just refresh us all on what he did do, how many times did he race.
Wesley: The first time I ran him, he won by about 17 or 18 lengths at Gulfstream, and then I put him on a plane and sent him to Churchill to run in the allowance race, and he ran and he at 7/8 of a mile, which is something I never do; I never run a first time starter at 7/8ths. He did it with ease and did it 1:21 and change with speed to spare. And then I put him on a plane to run in the Kentucky Derby day an allowance race and he colicked on the plane, so he had to go right into the hospital. He came out -- they didn’t have to do any surgery or anything -- of it alright. So I sent the horse on to New York and the following weekend, he was doing so good – they had a race at Belmont and I ran him, and he repeated the effort and did it just 1:21 and change, with the three-quarters in 1:08 and change in a gallop.
Wesley: He was just an unbelievable horse that never really get a chance to do what he could really do.
Ron: He had persistent bleeding problem that he couldn’t overcome with meds?
Wesley: No, he bled through Lasix and he just – when the running started after that and he started bleeding, he just couldn’t get his air and that was just it. It’s just such a shame because he is the most talented horse that I’ve ever trained. And he really didn’t accomplish anything.
Ron: What is the hardest part of your job – dealing with the horses and getting them to do what you want them to do, or dealing with the owners and getting them to do what you want them to do?
Wesley: The horses are easy. I have woken up every day since I was 10 years old and went to the racetrack in the mornings, even before school. It’s just something that I’ve done my whole life and it just comes very natural to me because that’s all I know. Now, dealing with the owners, I’m getting to a point in my career where a lot of owners trust my decisions and when you talk to them about it, if there’s a problem or something to go with, then you have no problems with it.
As time goes on, you kind of weed out the people that you can’t work with and so I would have to say, things are getting easier as I’ve almost been training for 20 years now and things are starting to come together. It’s a hard question to answer.
Ron: What is like to work for Ken Ramsey?
Wesley: I’ll tell you what; he is the most wonderful owner to work with. He lets you do your job. I treat his horses like I own them and every decision I base on those horses is just like I own them myself. Like I was just telling you, if there is ever a decision to make, we talk about it and he would go with it whether the outcome is good or bad, we made the decision and that’s what we went with. And I’m not just saying that . I’m telling you that this is the most wonderful man you could ever train for.
Ron: Cool. That’s great to here. Next question, this is kind of a throwback to your Montana days. It comes from Hobart Beagler . Wesley, it sure is a long way from Kalispell, Montana to Royal Ascot. Do you remember coming to the Northwest Montana Fair with your buddy, Joe?
Wesley: Yeah. I sure do. Joe Fitzpatrick, wonderful guy. That’s when I was riding on the B circuits there, the non-recognized circuits… I was about 14 or 15 years old back then, and it was a wonderful time and had a wonderful experience.
Ron: Another question along the same lines from Bill Dailey: I imagine anyone as successful as you has had some good mentors along the way. Would you care to name them and elaborate on what you learned from them?
Wesley: I’ll tell you what; I’ve sort of, as a jockey and knowing my career was going to be limited from the first day I stepped into the struts gate, I sort of paid attention to a lot of the trainers I rode for, namely one, Charlie Whittingham; he was very instrumental and every morning I’d come to the barn, I’d ask him questions and he take the time to answer the questions, because I knew that my jockey career was going to be short lived and I knew which direction I was going to go when I was too heavy to ride. So everywhere I went, I’d always ask questions from different trainers, but he was just a wonderful guy, and when I did start training, he helped me out a lot also when I first started training. I was very fortunate to get a really good horse early in my career, for a very small amount … I purchased him for just like $13,000 and he went on to be a Breeder’s Cup horse. I encountered some problems with the horse, some physical problems that I went to Charlie, and Charlie really helped me out a lot as far as some soundness issues when I first started training. He really took his time and called on Dr. Harthill for me. I was a real young trainer that normally Dr. Harthill, who would more or less try and help out the bigger name like Charlie, would not have time for, and Charlie made the phone call, went with me, went over it with the vet. He was just… what a great guy.
Ron: Wow, sounds good. Anybody else that comes to mind?
Wesley: You know, there are so many other trainers and so many other different veterinarians and people that I couldn’t even name them all.
Ron: Next question comes from DJR – Do you have many problems with bucked shins in your 2-year-olds, and how do you bring them along to ward off buck shins and do you paint their legs with anything?
Wesley: Well, we start off very, very early. In fact, there are two of us that get on the horses. We start in October, myself and a guy named Mike Clark, and we break each and every 2 year old that I train. And we put a lot of miles and miles and miles and miles into them down here in Florida to where we build up some good bone density before we even start to do the breeze process where they start their speed works. I think that has a lot to do with it.
Now, of course, there are certain ones that will shin buck… not shin buck but will come up with a little bit of a shin to where we back off and we never get them to that shin buck point. We always get them to where if there’s a little tender, we just back off.
Ron: So you think that just building it up in them early on and helps build their bone structure and has them pretty sound.
Wesley: Yeah, getting a good foundation underneath them, it really seems to help a lot.
Ron: Was that one of the things you attribute to your success with 2 year olds, which obviously you have a knack for?
Wesley: Well, you know, I try to train each horse as an individual. Like I said, if the horse does come up with a little tiny bit of a tender shin, we just back off until if you keep pushing forward, you’re going to get them completely shin bucked out, and it just takes that much longer to get them back.
Ron: This next question is from Mary, who wants to know – Since you have such a success rate with 2 year olds, what body type do you look for when you go to the sales? Do you prefer a more quarter horse physique or does it matter?
Wesley: I’ll buy sort of a typey looking horse that I’ll target for the earlier races and then I’ll always try and look for a different type of for later races. What I do when I go to the sales is there a lot of horses that I eliminate just based on horses that I’ve gotten in the past that haven’t turned out – the physical, different types of confirmations and whatnot, that I eliminate. So that takes a lot of the – say there’s a thousand horses in a sale and you go through them and you can eliminate 500 or 600 of them, then that just leaves you that much of a smaller number to go through.
Ron: Speaking of sales, do you like the sales game? Do you like going there and doing that part of it?
Wesley: Yeah, I really love that part. I like to pick them out and actually take them from A to Z.
Ron: So it gives you more control over what you’re working with.
Ron: From Dennis C: What attribute do you give the most weight to when deciding if a yearling will be precocious – foaling dates, sire stats and/or conformation?
Ron: From Mitchell Dutko – What are your plans with Strike The Tiger? Secondly, it seems as if you increase the amount of wins you accumulate with every year; is that directly proportional to your gray hairs, or do you think you’re just maturing as a trainer?
Wesley: I think it’s the gray hair that the owners give you.
Ron: And also back to the first part of that, what about Strike The Tiger; where are you going?
Wesley: We’re running Saturday in the Chenery Stakes at Colonial Downs.
Ron: Next question from S. Ruby – I was present at River Downs the day you worked your horses. It was a great show between races and got quite the buzz around the stands. Why did you pick River Downs for those workouts?
Wesley: Well, I had asked Keeneland to help me out the week prior, which they did and they sort of bent over backwards for me to get on the turf course after they had closed the meet. So I just felt that it just wouldn’t be the right thing to do with Keeneland, because I know that they take care of their turf course so well. So I just asked River Downs, even though I don’t race there that often, if they could help me out one time. They were very gracious in doing that, and actually doing it between the races really helped my horses because it was more of a race environment to where the horses got a little bit more excited, got a lot more out of it. I tried to set it to where I was about three weeks from the work to the race which really set the horses up well, to where I wouldn’t have to do a lot with them from that point until they got to Ascot.
Ron: So you do have some limited experience at River. Nice little track, isn’t it?
Wesley: It’s a beautiful racetrack. It’s a wonderful, wonderful turf course with big hedges. What a great place.
Ron: The next question is from Greg – I go to England a lot for the races during the year there, and I want to know if you plan to go over again to York, Newmarket, Sandown Park or any other race meets in England?
Wesley: I’ve got some horses in mind nominated to some races in the fall, although I just think that what I did over there early is something that I’ve been trying to do. I kind of had a little bit of advantage on my side in that my horses were so in tune and prepped. I’m really going to have to study and look at my competition as the nominations come out and as we get closer to the races if I want to warrant sending them over there and incurring all the expense that was involved to get them there.
It’s doubtful that I’ll probably do it this fall, but it’s something that I will look into if given the type of horses that I brought over there that were ready and sort of on top of their game; that’s more or less the way I’d like to go and do it again if I ever have the horses right at that moment to send over there.
Ron: So, it really is just like finding the spot here in the US; you just try to assess the competition, what you got, the horse coming around and the race.
Ron: Next question – Please comment on the United States versus European horses concerning bleeding and Lasix.
Wesley: I’ll tell you what; just like that horse we were talking about before – the most talented horse I’ve ever trained – if I was to have taken him over to Europe, he would have performed very dismal, just because without Lasix, he wouldn’t have been able to compete. So you really have to be careful on the horses that you do bring over there, that they’re 100% sound because you don’t get any chance to also administer any Butazolidin. They also have to be free and clean of any bleeding or any expiratory problems that they have. You have to bring a horse that’s completely sound, that breathes good, that doesn’t bleed and then you’ve got to get lucky.
Ron: So even though you ran those horses over there without the medication, now that they’re back over here, I guess they would be running on the meds we use here?
Wesley: Yeah. I put them on the Butazolidin for the race and then I’ll also administer just a small dose of Lasix, just to sort of prevent it.
Ron: More precaution than anything?
Ron: Next question from Michael Costello – Is winning a juvenile stakes race at Royal Ascot perceived by many to be the best race meet in the world, your version or equitable to winning the Kentucky Derby? And do you have dreams of getting to Louisville one day?
Wesley: Well, I think anybody in horse racing has dreams of getting to the Kentucky Derby. Sheik Mohammad is sending two every year to try and get it done.
Obviously, some day I sure would like to get there. Winning those races in Royal Ascot was just something that I’ll cherish forever. I had my dad and my son there and it was something that we’ll remember for the next 30 or 40 years. That was a great accomplishment, and I was very proud of my horses and also thankful to the owners who were going through the expense to give it a try along with me. So that’s something that I’ll never forget. The Derby is always something up there that not only myself, but everybody in racing wants to get to.
Ron: Have you had a Derby starter?
Wesley: I have not. I really have gotten close with a couple of different horses a few different years but like I say, I’m hopeful that in the years to come, that hopefully I’ll have a colt good enough to get there.
Ron: So you’re not inclined just to throw any decent 3 year old you have in the race just for the chance of stealing the race?
Wesley: No. I’ve had a couple of horses that I could have probably run in there, but unless I’m leading one over and I really think I’m going to win it, that’s when I want to be in that race.
Ron: Next question comes from Michelle Wojak – I’m interested in becoming a horse trainer. Could you tell me more on what you do on a daily basis and if you have any suggestions on how to get started in training horses.
Wesley: It is a tough, tough life as a trainer, I’ll tell you that. There’s a lot of long hours and it’s seven days a week. The horses get up everyday and they’ve got to be fed and they’ve got to have someone that’s going have a plan for them. So, I mean, you really have to think twice about it. My son is 10 years old and that’s (British trip) the first thing I’ve ever been able to do with him since he’s been born. I’ve never taken a family vacation, I’ve never gone anywhere. It’s nothing that I regret because it’s something that I love to do, but it’s very, very hard for a family life.
Ron: Enter into it very carefully as far as what you want to do with your life.
Wesley: Yeah, because it’s not a job; it’s sort of a lifestyle. It’s something that every single day you have to get up and you’re going to deal with… even the greatest trainer in United States is training about 25%, so that means every hundred races he’s running, he’s losing 75 of them. So you’re going to have to deal with a lot of losses. A lot of people get upset because there is a lot of money involved. It’s a very, very tough game.
Ron: It sounds like a lot of stress.
Wesley: Yeah, it is. It is a lot of stress.
Ron: Next question from John Barnes – I watched you many years ago as a jockey winning races at Aqueduct. What was it like to ride against legends like Angel Cordero?
Wesley: I’ll tell you what; Angel was a tremendous jockey and great competitor, a fierce competitor. He would do anything he could to try and get his horse there first and a great guy. I came around at a time in my riding career that was right on the cusp of all the greats were still in racing. Not that the riders now, 20 years from now, will not be considered that as Shoemaker and Cordero and Pincay and all the jockeys that I rode with back then. But it was a great time to be in racing with all the legends. With Charlie Whittingham, trainers Woody Stephens and Frank Whiteley and all the trainers that I was able to meet. When I was a young kid, 16 years old, on the back side of Belmont Park, being to walk in and being able to ride horses for all those guys was just a dream come true and it’s something that I will never forget.
Ron: Next question from Stanley – How do you get your horses to break so fast? How much gate work do you do?
Wesley: We do a lot of gate work. My horses are in a gate 40 or 50 times before they ever run so that they are used to the rattling around and used to have other horses in there with them. They’re just very, very relaxed in the gate because of that, because they have been so well-schooled and educated, that when the gate opens, more often than not, they’re leaving and running.
Ron: Question from edzepplin. You have a Spanish Steps 2-year-old cold that broke his Maiden at Churchill on first out. I was very impressed with him. What is his current status and also, what is his name?
Wesley: He’s a very nice colt that Mr. Ramsey owns. We have him pointed for the Stanford Stakes; his name is Satisfied Mind.
Ron: Recently several high profile trainers have been handed suspensions for drug violations, yet they continue to attract owners and horses. At what point does medication you start to erode confidence and spoil the game?
Wesley: Well, I’ll tell you what; I really believe that trainers like Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher, they aren’t going to do anything to jeopardize their reputation. They are not going to do anything to try and cheat the game. I think that they are doing everything in their power to stay within the limits of what’s permitted but a lot of times when you have such a big operation and a big stable, it’s hard to manage each and every stable that they’re at. So I think that’s what the problem is. It’s nothing to do with someone trying to take advantage and use some type of drugs that’s going to make their horses run faster; it’s just a question that they’re not able to control – the vets are obviously administering whatever medication that came back in a positive test was meant for another horse, but their stable is so large that they weren’t able to control it.
Ron: So it’s kind of a management issue not being able to be everywhere all the time and watch everything that happens.
Wesley: That’s what it is. Exactly. And I think that it’s hard, as far as the stewards are concerned that levy the penalties because obviously, that horse on that day came back with a positive test. So what do you do even though you know that Steve Asmussen, who’s training Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, and all these wonderful horses, obviously he would not jeopardize his career with some type of 10 or 20 or 30 or $50,000 claim or whatever it is, to come back with a positive test.
But at the end of the day, the horse had it in his system, so the stewards have to levy some kind of penalty. I think that what needs to happen is when you get a guy like that, somehow you’ve got to understand that the situation would be different than if you get some trainer that comes into the game, is trying to do something funny and gets with a positive test that the horse was 40-1 or something like that; I think that somehow something’s got to give one way or the other. It’s just a horrible thing to see Steve go down for six months for something that obviously was not on his control and certainly something that he would never do.
Ron: Maurice Miller wants to know – While you were over there in Britain winning races, did some limey hit you on the nose?
Wesley: No, actually what happened was I got a filly shipped in for me from Jackson Hole, Wyoming from an owner to Keeneland, so I was breaking her in the stall about three days before I get on the airplane, and she reared up and her head came back and knocked me right in the nose before I got on the plane.
Ron: I didn’t even notice anything but obviously, he did.
Wesley: Yeah, he was right.
Ron: Well, listen, Wesley, that’s all the questions I went through. I certainly appreciate you taking your time, being so accommodating and wish you the best of success.
Wesley: No problem. Thank you very much.