Updated on 09/17/2011 10:19AM

Werner escapes typecast role


LEXINGTON, KY. - Once affixed, a label can be very difficult to shed. After Ronny Werner won a slew of races for 2-year-olds at the 2001 Keeneland and Churchill Downs spring meets, it wasn't long until Kentucky racing fans knew him simply as the trainer with a golden touch with babies.

Yet for all his initial success, Werner attempted to downplay that stereotype, saying he hoped to eventually prove that he was equally adept at training a far wider variety of Thoroughbreds. And now, just two years later, Werner is doing just that.

Werner has not even started a 2-year-old so far at Keeneland. For most of the winter, Werner and his 3-year-olds have received occasional mention as the Kentucky Derby picture has unfolded. Werner is the trainer of Badge of Silver, the recently injured colt whose February win in the Risen Star Stakes was one of the most impressive victories along the Derby trail, and Most Feared, who will try to earn a Derby berth Saturday in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

The transition from a so-called baby master to a more versatile trainer was a purposeful one. Werner always was leery of being pigeonholed as a one-trick pony, so he gradually shifted the emphasis of his stable.

"The horses we've bought the last couple years are the kind that will need to stretch out and run later," said Werner, who trained Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds in Texas before expanding into a sizable stable that races mostly in Kentucky, Texas, New Orleans, and Chicago. "I'm about ready to run a few 2-year-olds, but we're still getting most of them ready for later on."

Werner, a 43-year-old native of San Antonio, is quick to acknowledge that his swift emergence with 2-year-olds at a highly visible racetrack such as Keeneland gave him rare opportunities. One client who was quick to approach Werner was Ken Ramsey, who ultimately gave Badge of Silver to Werner to train. Badge of Silver was a leading Derby contender until he was sidelined late last week with a hairline fracture of a cannon bone.

Understandably, Werner was shaken by the temporary loss of Badge of Silver, but he hopes what occurs here Saturday in the Lexington still will get him his first Kentucky Derby starter. Most Feared, bred and owned by longtime client Tom Durant, was good enough to win the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity last September by three lengths, and although the gelding mostly has struggled since then, Werner believes the Lexington could become a critical turning point.

"He's got that foundation from last year, he's had some good works coming up to this, and he's got the style of running that says he'll run all day," he said. "Obviously he needs to show up Saturday, but I love the way he's coming up to this race."

Most Feared, a Texas-bred by the obscure sire Commanchero, has raced just once this year, finishing 10th and last as the 8-5 favorite in the Jan. 25 Lecomte at Fair Grounds. Werner said the dismal performance led to a thorough physical examination, during which a hairline fracture was diagnosed in the radius, the large bone in the foreleg just above the knee.

"We were scared it was going to be a cannon bone or tibia, which automatically means you're gone for 60 or 90 days," said Werner. "But this was the kind of thing where we didn't need to do anything but give him a little time off to let it heal. Fortunately, it healed really quick, and we got him back in time to bring him along for this race. Now we will have to see how he comes back against good horses like these."

Even if Most Feared is not good enough to earn a Derby berth, it seems that at least Werner has accomplished one thing this spring: He no longer is typecast as the 2-year-old guy.

"No doubt it helped me get some recognition around here, but now we're going about things a little different," he said.

Californian takes Forerunner in U.S. debut

Californian, a British-bred colt whose pedigree belies his name, used an eye-catching outside run to win Thursday's featured $111,200 Forerunner Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths.

Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Californian returned $28 to win in his U.S. debut. A Zafonic colt who earned just $30,787 from 11 starts in England, Californian is owned by The Thoroughbred Corporation and trained by Kristin Mulhall, who assumed the colt's training in California in early March.

Californian rallied from last in a field of nine 3-year-olds to finish 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.10 over a turf course rated yielding. "It was difficult ground for most, but those European horses are used to that," said Desormeaux.

Rapid Proof finished second, another length ahead of third-place finisher Color Me Gone. Christmas Away, the 9-5 favorite, got a good inside stalking trip but had no late kick and finished fourth under Pat Day. Christmas Away, who was sold earlier in the week to Elmon Gray, will go from trainer Pat Byrne to Robbie Bailes in Maryland.

Stravinsky attracts big field

As usually happens when Keeneland puts up a $75,000 stakes for fillies and mares sprinting on grass, an overflow number of entrants have turned out.

The turf-course limit of 10 are scheduled to run Saturday in the secondary feature, the Stravinsky Stakes. Dixie Tactics, Unificada, and Repository should be among the favored runners in the 5 1/2-furlong grass race.

The Stravinsky is the sixth of nine races on an outstanding card that also includes three allowance races.

* For the first time in memory, Keeneland carded 10 races, one more than normal, on its Friday card. Ten races also will be carded next Friday, closing day.

"We've done it mostly because the traffic around the racetrack is particularly bad on Friday afternoons," said Keeneland spokesman Jim Williams. "Another race helps you stagger your exit flow. One extra race also is an extra opportunity for horsemen."