03/02/2009 1:00AM

Trainer report: Wesley Ward


Last year was the best year of trainer Wesley Ward's career, with his stable winning 94 races with 360 starters and earning $2.2 million in 2008.

Two months into 2009, Ward seems on pace for a year as good, if not better. Through Sunday, Ward ranked seventh in the Gulfstream Park trainer standings, winning with 9 of 34 starters.

Yet his peak time of year has yet to begin. Although Ward is a high-percentage trainer in many statistical categories, he excels with 2-year-olds, particularly in spring and early summer, when races are short.

Ward said that he started out with inexpensive horses, and he always wanted to try to get the jump on other trainers by starting his horses early - before the better quality horses made it to the races.

According to Daily Racing Form's Formulator software, Ward has compiled a record over the last five years of 38 wins from 123 starts with first-out 2-year-olds, good for a win mark of 31 percent. Looking strictly at races at 4 1/2 furlongs or shorter - which typically come during the spring - his win percentage leaps to 43 percent.

Whether it is a two-furlong dash in California or Florida or a 4 1/2-furlong sprint at Keeneland, Ward's babies can be counted on to be fast and well prepped.

In some cases, they prove to be scary fast. It was Ward who trained One Hot Wish to a first-out victory at Keeneland in 2007 when the filly set a world record by racing 4 1/2 furlongs in 48.87 seconds.

One Hot Wish, like a number of the horses in Ward's stable, is by Bring the Heat, who stands for him at Ward Ranch in Ocala, Fla.

But there are more reasons to expect big things from Ward this year, besides his skill with training 2-year-olds. Besides the horses he owns himself, he also trains for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and Frank Calabrese - some of the winningest owners in the nation. Both the Ramseys and Calabrese are winning at a 27 percent rate in 2009.

Although many of the horses he trains for them are claiming runners, some are of a higher quality. Notonthesamepage, for example, won the Spectacular Bid Stakes for the Ramseys and Ward with a flashy 114 Beyer Speed Figure. And Dreaming of Liz, a daughter of El Prado out of Grade 1 winner Silver Maiden, is a stakes winner he trains for Calabrese.

Notonthesamepage is being freshened after bleeding in his seventh-place finish on Saturday in the Fountain of Youth.

"He's headed for a hyperbaric chamber in Ocala," Ward said Monday. "We want to get his lungs cleared up, wait until he gets healed up, and get started on a new 2009 campaign for him."

The ultimate goal for Notonthesamepage is the Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes this summer.

"I feel like he is an unbelievable sprinter," Ward said.

Ward, who turned 41 on Tuesday, has the background for success. His father, Dennis, is a longtime trainer, and Ward has been involved in racing since his teenage years.

In 1984, he earned the Eclipse Award as top apprentice, winning 335 races, more than $5 million in purses, and jockey titles at Belmont, Aqueduct, and the Meadowlands. He later rode in Southern California, where he was aboard eventual Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand when that colt won his first race for trainer Charlie Whittingham.

After retiring from riding in 1989 due to weight problems, Ward assisted his father before beginning his own training career in 1991. That year, his stable won 8 of 45 races - making just $42,704 - about a fifth of what his barn has already earned this year.

For horseplayers, the challenge of backing Ward-trained horses is that they are typically heavily bet. Well spotted, they often start among the favorites, making a fat price hard to find.

But in addition to his success with early-season 2-year-olds, he has favorable returns in some other statistical categories - such as with turf-to-dirt runners, horses having their blinkers removed, and starters racing over wet tracks.