By Jennifer Wirth, of The Saturday
In 1979, Trainer John T. Ward, Jr. and Owner John Oxley teamed up in the racing world and set out on a journey that would ultimately deliver a Kentucky Oaks victory in 1995 with Gal in a Ruckus and the second-fastest Kentucky Derby winner in history with Monarchos in 2001.
It seemed they had already realized the dreams that many trainers and owners chase throughout their lifetime.
Yet, the beauty of racing is that a horse can simply show up and defy whatever was previously imagined to be possible in a lifetime. And, it is part of the glory of the sport that one can spend a lifetime living inside the wonder of what dreams may lay ahead.
For the Ward/Oxley team, a new dream appears to be taking flight with the arrival of Dancinginherdreams, a three-year-old filly that juxtaposes grace and grit in a fashion that is simply otherworldly in description.
In her three career starts, Dancinginherdreams has claimed two dazzling come-from-behind victories and placed after delivering a breathtaking finishing charge in the Forward Gal Stakes. As she points to her next outing, Ward graciously agreed to answer my questions about Dancinginherdreams as she continues to move forward on the trail toward the Kentucky Oaks.
WIRTH: You have trained some very special horses in your career, including Beautiful Pleasure, Kentucky Oaks Winner Gal In A Ruckus, and Kentucky Derby Winner Monarchos. Do you believe that Dancinginherdreams is a special filly?
WARD: Yes. I believe that Dancinginherdreams is a special filly. My wife trained Beautiful Pleasure and she was a superior athlete. This young filly could fill those shoes.
As far as Gal In a Ruckus and Monarchos, Dancinginherdreams is better than Gal In A Ruckus. Hopefully, Dancinginherdreams has the endurance and the closing style of Monarchos. His style is more indicative of my training.
WIRTH: Was Dancinginherdreams trained to deliver a “Come-From-Behind” finish in her races or is that her own personal style?
WARD: I am trying to develop that trait in Dancinginherdreams.
When she ran in the Forward Gal and came in second, she was sharp enough to go immediately to the lead and had the speed to do it. But, I don’t want to teach her to leave the gate in a sprint fashion because she is capable of endurance and has the physical structure to go two-turns in a race.
I had to sacrifice the early part of the race in the Forward Gal the other day because I didn’t want to ruin her chances of being a horse that comes from behind.
WIRTH: In the Forward Gal, were you impressed with the late charge from Dancinginherdreams?
WARD: Yes. It was gratifying. I don’t mind getting beat if I see the horse displaying other dimensions in the race.
Dancinginherdreams showed other dimensions in the Forward Gal. She got down on her belly and showed as much grit as she could get. She raced up to the filly that won and got her past the wire. In her mind, she chased her down.
When she is in a race, Julien Leparoux, her rider, says she just melts in his hands and looks for the holes to go through. When she finally did get clear in the Forward Gal, Dancinginherdreams showed that she has an amazing closing kick.
WIRTH: In her three career starts, which race did you personally find the most impressive?
WARD: I thought that the Forward Gal was her most impressive race so far. She ran against a very good group of fillies and she was still able to close against experienced racehorses that had multiple wins.
Her stakes win at Churchill last fall was a good stakes win for a two-year old, but the Forward Gal showed that she could somewhat dominate in a group of experienced horses when put to the task.
I am looking forward to seeing her race a mile in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream on February 26. The Davona Dale should be right up her alley.
WIRTH: How would you describe the personality of Dancinginherdreams?
WARD: When she is racing, Dancinginherdreams has the mind of five-year-old or six-year-old racemare. She is very tactical in her races and will do anything you want her to do. Older horses look for holes in races and sometimes they can even see them before the rider. She already has that instinct.
Dancinginherdreams also doesn’t mind going into tight places in her training in the morning. I think she showed that in her second win.
Finally, she just has a different dimension because she can explode in the last quarter in a race. It is a factor that will make her a very dangerous filly in the Kentucky Oaks.
WIRTH: What are some of her favorite items or unique traits?
WARD: Dancinginherdreams is a young, tall, spoiled girl. When we come into work in the morning, she gets anxious. So, she immediately gets to come out and walk for 25-30 minutes the first thing in the morning. Once she comes back in, she gets ready to train. When she trains, she has a favorite pony that accompanies her to the racetrack.
She also has a shed foreman, an elderly gentleman, and she just loves him. Whenever she thinks anything is wrong, she just jumps over next to him. He’s her human.
She does have an explosive temperament, but she manages it very well. I call her a ‘professional woman’ when she is racing and a ‘teenage girl’ when she is around the barn. She will constantly have you on your toes to keep her happy. She loves eating peppermints and carrots.
Her nickname is ‘Pinky’ because she is so white. When you give her a bath, her skin is pink. Her skin is pink and freckled underneath her coat.
WIRTH: What would it mean to you if Dancinginherdreams raced in the Kentucky Oaks?
WARD: Being a person from Kentucky, to me, it is the most elevated race for a filly. I think it is a great accomplishment. My wife and I would just be thrilled to have two Kentucky Oaks winners.
A win in the Oaks would emphasize our style of training. A slow, patient, classical style of training pays off in the end with horses. It might get you beat sometimes. But in the end, our whole theory is, ‘Raise them like champions. Race them like champions. And, make them disappoint you.’
WIRTH: What is your favorite moment with Dancinginherdreams at this point in her career?
WARD: I think the greatest experience that I have had with her was in the past few days.
Lately, she wants to get aggressive when she is training in the morning and she wants to take charge. It’s the bubbly teenage girl inside of her that says, ‘Well, I’m going to go out there and do it however I want to. You can’t tell me what to do.’
In the past few days, she has been working on a long, ¾ of a mile training path outside of the regular track. She has been going back there without the pony for a couple of days.
You can see the confidence exude out of her and she is in the zone where training is the most important thing to her now in the morning. You could fall down right in front of her and she’d just walk right over you and continue her training. She is not wild. She is just being very controlled.
I believe she is at the point where she is done being a teenage girl and starting to be a young lady. And, she’s becoming a very athletic young lady.