05/13/2014 12:04PM

Ward aims for first Triple Crown race win with Pablo Del Monte

Barbara D. Livingston
Pablo Del Monte, shown training at Churchill Downs on May 1, will be trainer Wesley Ward's third career Preakness starter.

BALTIMORE – If Wesley Ward has been typecast as a master with 2-year-old Thoroughbreds, well, so be it.

“Over the years, clients started upgrading their pedigrees, and I’ve gotten to train some really nice babies,” Ward said. “Eventually, the horses get older, you know. That’s allowed me to build a pretty nice stable.”

One of those flashy 2-year-olds has matured into a 3-year-old worthy of running in the Triple Crown series: Pablo Del Monte, bred and owned by Ward in partnership with the powerful Coolmore group, will start Saturday in the 139th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

Ward said Pablo Del Monte has never been better and is eligible to pull a surprise in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

“The horse is going to be fit as a fiddle when I put the saddle on him,” Ward said. “I really think he’s going to run the best he’s ever run. He’s absolutely doing fantastic.”

Pablo Del Monte, a chestnut colt, easily won his first two starts before concluding his 2-year-old campaign with a fifth-place finish as the favorite in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park last November. Since then, he has run fourth, third, and third in three starts as a 3-year-old, including two graded stakes.

Pablo Del Monte is the result of a foal-sharing agreement between Ward and Coolmore, the global racing empire that includes Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier as principals. Ward owned the mare, One Hot Wish, a record-setting sprinter, and Coolmore stands Giant’s Causeway, one of the most successful sires in the world. Ward said he has a 25 percent ownership stake in Pablo Del Monte.

“They’ve been wonderful people to work with,” Ward said. “I’m partners with them on a few other horses. It couldn’t have worked out much better, could it? I mean, we’re heading to the Preakness.”

The option to run Pablo Del Monte as the only also-eligible entrant in the May 3 Kentucky Derby became available when Hoppertunity was scratched after entries were taken, but after lengthy deliberation, Ward and Coolmore decided to scratch. Jeffrey Sanchez, who was named to ride in the Derby, retains the Preakness mount.

“Breaking from the 20 post probably would’ve made Jeffrey use him a little too much,” Ward said. “We talked it over, and they thought it’d be best just to wait. I think they made the right call.”

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Ward shipped Pablo Del Monte back to Keeneland after the Derby and trained him over the Polytrack surface that soon will be replaced by dirt. Ward was beaming after the colt breezed six furlongs Saturday in 1:12.20.

“I think the extra time has been great for the horse,” said Ward, who sent Pablo Del Monte here Monday from Kentucky via equine charter.

Ward has had two prior Triple Crown starters, and both were Preakness longshots: Pleasant Prince was 11th at 23-1 in 2010, and Flashpoint wound up last of 14 after setting the pace in 2011 as a 16-1 shot.

Ward, 46, is a former Eclipse Award-winning jockey who turned to training in 1991 after he outgrew the saddle. Within a few years, he found his niche as a handler of young horses, with an uncanny knack for getting them to break from the gate as if they were shot out of a cannon and just keep hustling right along.

“People ask me, ‘How do you do that?’ ” he said. “Honestly, it’s just a lot of time spent with them in Florida, starting in the fall, when they’re yearlings. By the time we lead them over, they’ve usually had quite a bit more experience than what they’re running against.”

Ward has 353 career wins with 2-year-olds. His specialty is running them at first opportunity: At this early juncture of 2014, when most trainers haven’t even started one 2-year-old, Ward already was 5-for-22 through last weekend.

But he really is no one-trick pony: His 26 graded stakes wins through the years have come primarily with older horses such as Unfinished Symph, Men’s Exclusive, Bear Fan, and Gypsy Robin. Last month, Judy the Beauty, a 5-year-old mare, earned Ward his first Grade 1 victory in the Madison Stakes at Keeneland.

“She won the Grade 1 at Keeneland,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and she also won there first out as a 2-year-old.”

Born: March 3, 1968, in Selah, Wash. (age 46)
Resides: Hollywood, Fla.
Family: wife, Kimberly; children, Riley James, Denae, Jackie Levi
Career training wins: 1,241 (through Sunday); graded wins, 26
Stable earnings: $35.6 million
First training win: 1991, Yakima Meadows
Career riding wins: 749
Racing honors: Eclipse Award, top apprentice rider, 1984
Unusual feat: First American trainer to win a Royal Ascot stakes (2009)