08/26/2007 11:00PM

Louisiana-based trainer shifts stable from older claimers to younger runners


Trainer Wes Hawley built his reputation as a claiming trainer of note, with such success stories as Rhonesquarterswish, whom he took for $7,500 and won the $50,000 Delta Downs Mile, and Twelve Grands, a $5,000 claim he sent out to run second in the Evangeline Mile.

But these days, the barn is centered around young talent. At the request of some of his longtime owners and with the support of some new ones, Hawley has been hitting the sales. Dawn After Dawn was one of his purchases, and this spring she took Louisiana-based Hawley to Kentucky, where she ran third in the Grade 1 Ashland and fourth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

"The last three years, we've bought 2-year-olds," Hawley said. "The first year, we bought Aly's Vow. Last year, we bought Beyond Infinity and Dawn After Dawn. This year, we bought Steamy Ridge and Dawn Before Dawn."

Steamy Ridge and Dawn Before Dawn, who is no relation to Dawn After Dawn, each won her career debut at Louisiana Downs on Aug.o16. Dawn Before Dawn was a 3 1/2-length winner of a maiden turf race for 2-year-old fillies. Hawley said she will make her next start in the $200,000 Happy Ticket at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 22.

Steamy Ridge was full of run when she coasted to a four-length win in a maiden special weight race over five furlongs. She had turned in a series of strong works for her debut, including a five-furlong move from the gate in 59 seconds, the fastest of 46 works at the distance July 22 at Louisiana Downs.

"She's got everything," Hawley said. "She's got speed. She's willing to sit there and relax and rate. She'll do whatever you ask her to do. She's definitely got the mind and soundness to be any kind of horse."

Hawley said Steamy Ridge, by Snow Ridge, was purchased privately after being bought back for $20,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales auction in April. He co-owns the filly, who he said could race this fall in Kentucky.

Steamy Ridge is one of 12 juveniles making up Hawley's stable of 15 horses at Louisiana Downs. He has several horses that will join the barn in the next few months, including Dawn After Dawn, who is being freshened with a late-season goal the Pago Hop at Fair Grounds. Aly's Vow, a stakes winner, was fourth in the race last year. Hawley expects to have 20 to 25 horses based this winter in New Orleans.

Among his promising juveniles that will debut late in the Louisiana Downs meet or at Fair Grounds are fillies by Broken Vow, Songandaprayer, Cape Canaveral, and Essence of Dubai, and colts by Greatness at Put It Back, the sire of top-class sprinter Smokey Stover.

"For what we spent, I think we bought some outstanding individuals for the money," Hawley said of his current crop of 2-year-olds. "And what we've done so far, I really like."

Hawley, 44, worked as an equine therapist in Chicago in the early 1990s. Among his "clients" were Black Tie Affair and Dispersal. He decided to resume his training career in 1994. Through the years, he has won stakes with such hard-knocking older horses as Aloha Bold, a $75,000 claim, and Caro's Royalty. Hawley has also made noise with notable claims like Five Straight.

"Most of our horses now are 2 and 3," he said. "It's a long ways away from what it used to be. One year, I think I won two races with two 11-year-olds at the Fair Grounds."