10/29/2014 8:38AM

Ward finds a way to balance his priorities this Breeders’ Cup

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Benoit & Associates
Judy the Beauty is one of six scheduled Breeders' Cup starters for trainer Wesley Ward.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Horse trainers are people, too, which explains why Wesley Ward will not be here at Santa Anita this weekend for the Breeders’ Cup.

Despite having six scheduled starters, including several strong contenders, Ward will be watching the races on an iPad in south Florida, where his 15-year-old son, Riley James, will be competing in a high-school cross-country meet.

“It’s really important to him that I be there,” Ward said. “It just so happens that this meet conflicts every year with the Breeders’ Cup. I’ve missed it the last three years.”

Ward is as well-traveled as anyone in American racing today. Besides having traveled extensively in Europe and the Far East, he has left his mark in every corner of the U.S. map.

Ward, 46, was born and raised in Washington state, where his father, Dennis, was a trainer. He won an Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice rider in 1984 while competing primarily in New York. He spent 17 years training horses in California, most of that time at Santa Anita, before eventually moving his family to the Miami area, where he and his wife, Kimberly, are raising their three children and where Ward develops dozens of young horses sent to him by a variety of clients. Ward spends a considerable amount of time away from home, particularly in Kentucky in the spring and fall.

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“When you’re a dad, at some point you realize that you’re just not going to get these days back,” Ward said by phone Monday from Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., where he prepared all his Breeders’ Cup runners. While he was scheduled to send five of his horses here Wednesday (one of them, Sunset Glow, was flown here early) on a Tex Sutton charter, Ward was headed home the same day to Hollywood, Fla.

“I don’t judge myself or anybody else,” he said. “I just think it’s important to do what’s right by your children. You’ll look at pictures and think, ‘Man, I’m missing so much!’ If it means I have to miss something as big as the Breeders’ Cup, well, that’s the way it’s going to have to be.

“Everybody knows all the major work is done beforehand anyway. I’ve been here at Keeneland doing everything I can to get these horses ready. Once I put them on a plane, they’ll be stabled with Blake Heap there at Santa Anita, and my dad and some of my staff are going to be there to help. Everything will go just fine, I’m sure.”

Ward actually will be starting an extended vacation at home, having finally settled with the New York Racing Association on a penalty for a clenbuterol positive dating from a June 2012 race at Belmont Park in which his horse, Sunset Time, finished third. Ward will serve 30 days and pay a $5,000 fine and said none of his horses will race during that time in the name of an assistant. The suspension begins Monday.

Ward has been running horses in the Breeders’ Cup for 20 years. His first starter, Unfinished Symph, ran third as a mutuel-field entry behind Barathea in the 1994 BC Mile on the Churchill Downs turf. He has never won a Breeders’ Cup race but has had one second and five thirds from 16 starts.

This is the year he could break through. He has four morning-line favorites in the 13 races this year.

Judy the Beauty, runner-up in the 2013 Filly and Mare Sprint, is the morning-line favorite in the race this year. The 5-year-old mare skipped what would have been a final prep, having last raced Aug. 17 at Del Mar.

“I own her,” he said, “so you know I’ve done everything I can to get her the best she can possibly be. She’s getting older now, and I actually think running her in a prep might’ve hindered her chances in this.”

Ward will run a pair in the BC Turf Sprint in No Nay Never, a 3-year-old who was good enough to win two group races in Europe at 2 and the morning-line favorite, and Undrafted, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Wes Welker, the star NFL wide receiver who was an undrafted free agent.

“I know there’ll be a lot of fast horses in there, but I expect No Nay Never to be shooting out for the lead,” said Ward, adding the colt “is probably the best horse I’ve ever trained.”

As for Undrafted, “he’s really held his fitness, and I expect him to be making a big late charge.”

Ward also has a pair for the BC Juvenile Turf, conceding that morning-line favorite Hootenanny probably rates a better chance than the speedy Ramsey Farm homebred Luck of the Kitten.

“Hootenanny probably had the best work for the Breeders’ Cup of any of my horses,” he said in reference to a bullet drill on Oct. 20 over the Keeneland turf. “He really came smoking home. I really love how he’s coming up to this.”

Sunset Glow, who is the morning-line favorite in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf, was an odds-on winner of the Del Mar Debutante in her last start and merits consideration on that Grade 1 win alone. “I sent her out a little early because I thought she might need to acclimate more than the others would.”

Ward is known as friendly and good-humored, but clearly there’s a serious side to him. He often walks off by himself to watch his horses in races to more easily concentrate, free of distractions. He expects to do just that with his iPad this weekend in Florida.

“If I’m jumping up and down all by myself, people might think I’m crazy,” he said. “But they won’t know what it means, so that’s fine.”