09/01/2016 12:50PM

Undrafted tops trio for Ward in opening-day stakes

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Undrafted is likely to go favored in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint.

Wesley Ward could have been in England overseeing Lady Aurelia, a Group 1 winner in France last month. Or he could have gone to Cincinnati to saddle Hootenanny, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2014. Or to Saratoga, where he has a maiden in action. Or even spent a Saturday at home in south Florida.

But the well-traveled trainer has chosen Kentucky Downs as his Saturday destination for this simple reason: He thinks it’s fun and unique.

“Plus, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy quite a bit of success there,” said Ward, who recently hit the 1,500-win mark.

Ward has won or tied for leading trainer at Kentucky Downs three times (2008, 2010, 2014). In fact, Ward had won with 22 of his first 62 starters at the turf-only track in south-central Kentucky before laying an 0-for-22 egg last September. Ward, 48, is eager to get back to par by running three horses on the 2016 opening-day card, most notably Undrafted, the likely favorite in the $350,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint.

“He’s an old pro,” said Ward. “He bounced out of his Saratoga race in good shape. We’re looking forward to running back there Saturday.”

The 6 1/2-furlong Turf Sprint is sandwiched by two $350,000 stakes for 2-year-olds. All of Saturday’s stakes include $200,000 in bonuses from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. They’re part of an all-stakes pick-four wager that starts with the Ladies Turf (race 7, post 4:56 p.m. Central).

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Here’s a rundown on those last three stakes:

◗ Kentucky Downs Juvenile (race 8, 5:28): Ancient Warfare, a first-out winner over the Saratoga turf for Mark Casse, could be a slight favorite in a seven-furlong race that drew a capacity field of 12 2-year-olds. Others with solid credentials include Prados Way, 2 for 2 in the far Southwest for Steve Asmussen; Parlor and Preemptive Strike, both maiden winners at Ellis Park; and Raising Rumors, the winner of the Prairie Gold Juvenile.

Probably the most intriguing starter is Han Sense, from the first and only American crop of Hansen, who has since gone on to Korea. Han Sense overcame a poor start to win his career debut, the restricted Iowa Cradle, in breathtaking fashion. As an Iowa-bred, Han Sense will be running for a $150,000 purse.

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◗ Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (race 9, 6:02): Undrafted, an earner of $1.27 million, most recently was third as the 6-5 favorite in the Lucky Coin at Saratoga, a turf sprint that followed a sixth-place finish in a Group 1 race at Royal Ascot. The 6-year-old Undrafted will have Edgar Prado aboard when breaking from post 2 in an oversubscribed field.

Probably the top challengers are the ageless Regally Ready, a Breeders’ Cup winner who has won 20 races and earned $1.8 million for Asmussen, and Hogy, a Midwest fan favorite who has earned nearly $700,000 while sprinting on turf and synthetics. Almasty, trained by Brad Cox, is one of the fringe players.

“It’s a solid race, but we’re cutting him back from a longer race, and I think he’s going to step up,” said Cox.

◗ Juvenile Fillies (race 10, 6:31): In one of the deepest races of the card, favoritism figures to be severely fractured in this seven-furlong finale, with at least six fillies likely to take solid play: Lull, Lady Hansen, Safe With Me, Southern Sis, Forest Circle, and Caroline Test.

Caroline Test, unstarted on turf, nearly won the Ellis Park Juvenile four weeks ago when overtaken in the final 70 yards.

“We don’t know about the grass, but the family says she’ll handle it no problem,” Keeneland-based trainer Ben Colebrook told Kentucky Downs publicity this week. “Her first race was supposed to be on the turf. They took it off, and she ran so well that we tried her against the boys. I think she’ll handle Kentucky Downs just fine. Not having to ship very far is appealing.”

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