03/18/2013 3:27PM

Gulfstream Park: Ward sends pair in Wednesday turf sprint

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Rip Roarin Ritchie wins the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Even trainer Wesley Ward isn’t sure which of the two 3-year-olds he has entered in Wednesday’s $58,850 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park, Rip Roarin Ritchie or Off the Page, is better. The only way to find out is to put them in the starting gate and let them duke it out, along with seven others, in the five-furlong turf dash.

Rip Roarin Ritchie brings in the best credentials of the pair, having won Monmouth Park’s Tyro Stakes at 2 over a field that included Itsmyluckyday, currently among the top-rated 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail. The win was the second in four starts at 2 for the gelded son of Bring the Heat, who has not raced since finishing fifth as the favorite in the Laurel Futurity on Oct. 27.

“Rip Roarin Ritchie has always been a talented horse,” Ward said. “Julio [Garcia] lost his stick turning for home, or he’d have won his first start at Woodbine. Then he came back and won his next two, including the Tyro. I have no real explanation for why he performed a little dismally in the Laurel Futurity.”

Although Rip Roarin Ritchie showed speed in all four previous starts, Ward said he will show a new dimension in his 3-year-old debut.

“I’ve been training him to come from behind in all his works,” Ward said. “I’m hoping to get him to settle and come with a run in the last five-sixteenths of a mile.”

Ward named Hall of Fame finalist Alex Solis, who has been sidelined the last six months nursing a sore shoulder injured last summer at Saratoga, on Rip Roarin Ritchie. Ward said Monday, however, that Solis will likely not be able to make his return until the end of the week.

Off the Page is coming off an impressive maiden win when he was switched to the grass for the first time for his 3-year-old debut, contesting a fast pace before pulling away to a 3 1/4-length victory over Heart and Pride, who flattered the effort by returning to win his next start.

“There are a lot of fast horses in this race, like there always are in these types of races, and I think he’s a little speedier than my other horse the way I’ve been training them,” Ward said. “I think Off the Page will shoot to the front and Rip Roarin Ritchie will try to catch him. I try to keep my horses apart as much as I can, but it’s the end of the meet. There aren’t many opportunities left, so I’ll leave them both in there and we’ll see which is best.”

The Ward duo figures to receive their sternest competition from Party Lad, the only three-time winner in the field, who will try to bounce back from a disappointing sixth-place finish as the 6-5 favorite when facing stakes company in his lone start at 3. Party Lad led throughout to easily win a similarly conditioned optional-claiming dash over the turf in his 2-year-old finale here in December.