01/06/2015 3:10PM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Hootenanny

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Barbara D. Livingston

From Lexington to Baltimore, England to France, and finally Southern California, Hootenanny racked up more frequent-flier miles in 2014 than perhaps any horse based in North America.

All the shipping proved worthwhile, however, as Hootenanny ran huge in two of the most prestigious grass races in the world for juveniles, capped by a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, earning him a spot as a finalist for the Eclipse Award as North America’s top 2-year-old male.

Despite a pedigree that suggested he’d be better suited to dirt than turf – he’s a son of Quality Road out of the Hennessy mare More Hennessy – Hootenanny showed trainer Wesley Ward early on that he was meant for grass.

Ward starts training his 2-year-olds early in the calendar year, and Hootenanny was having trouble keeping up with some of his stablemates even in dirt breezes of a sixteenth and/or an eighth of a mile. But when Ward started breezing him on turf?

“Boom!” Ward said. “You knew he was going to be a grass horse. A less-than-average dirt horse, he was blowing away the horses that were outworking him on dirt. I knew we were all right – better than all right.”

Hootenanny debuted at Keeneland on April 17 during that track’s last meet on Polytrack. Hootenanny cruised to a 4 1/4-length victory.

Though Ward knew Hootenanny didn’t like dirt, he ran him in the $75,000 Rollicking Stakes, which went with four horses, at Pimlico the day before the Preakness. Hootenanny finished third as the 3-5 favorite.

“I thought he would just be better than those horses,” Ward said. “I kicked myself.”

Having tasted success in the past at Royal Ascot in England, Ward sent Hootenanny there for the Windsor Castle Stakes, a five-furlong race on the turf straightaway. In a 24-horse field, Hootenanny galloped to a front-running 3 1/2-length victory, Ward’s second win in that race and his fourth at Royal Ascot.

“This is the cream of all of them coming over here,” Ward said after that race. “When I first came, it was a bit of an unknown, but now I know the races, the conditions, and Royal Ascot. Hopefully, I can bring older horses, too, in the future and some of my counterparts in America will come and see the magnitude of the meeting. To me, Royal Ascot is bigger and better than the Breeders’ Cup.”

In August, Ward had Hootenanny make a return trip to Europe, this time to Deauville in France for the Group 1 Darley Prix Morny, where he finished second after chasing the pace. The race was won by The Wow Signal, ridden by Frankie Dettori, a good friend of Ward’s.

Dettori knew that Ward’s horse was better than the one he rode in the Prix Morny, and Dettori wanted to ride him in the Breeders’ Cup. Sitting just off the early pace, Hootenanny and Dettori engaged and passed Luck of the Kitten – a stablemate of Hootenanny’s – to give Ward his first win in a Breeders’ Cup race.

That day, Ward was in south Florida, where his son was participating in a track meet. He said he watched the race on television.

“If I was there, I would have had eight million things on my mind,” Ward said. “I might have given the rider wrong instructions.”

Hootenanny is owned by Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith. He is wintering at Keeneland and will soon start breezing, with the goal of making the Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland in April.