A day after Charismatic shocked the Thoroughbred racing world by winning the 1999 Kentucky Derby, an enterprising reporter asked his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, if he might consider retiring from the game on top at the end of the year.
“No, they’d have to harrow me into the racetrack,” the still-active Lukas said, laughing.
It’s a sentiment to which Tampa Bay Downs trainer Dennis Ward, the Hurricane Grill & Wings Trainer of the Month, can relate. The 65-year-old Ward, who has been around horses all his life, says going to the barn before daylight breaks has never felt like work.
Ward – the father of 1984 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey Wesley Ward, a heralded trainer in his own right – is the guest Saturday at 10 a.m. for Tampa Bay Downs announcer Richard Grunder’s Morning Glory Club on the first floor of the grandstand. Ward has saddled eight winners from only 32 starters at the current meeting, his first-ever at the Oldsmar track.
Early arrivals receive free coffee and donuts and daily passes and can watch horses work out on the track.
“I’ve never had a job in my life – just the racetrack,” Ward said after garnering the Trainer of the Month honor. “I don’t consider what I do a job, because anyone who loves what they’re doing never gets tired of it. You’re always looking for the next good horse, and I never get tired of doing that.”
Ward, himself a top apprentice in 1962 at Longacres in Washington who also enjoyed success in New York and up and down the East Coast, stopped riding in 1968, a week after Wesley was born. He worked for the next 15 or so years as a jockey’s agent and valet, primarily in Washington state, while finding time to school Wesley on the fine art of riding Thoroughbreds.
Dad’s training paid off in storybook fashion in 1984. Wesley was 16 when he won the Eclipse, riding 335 winners and amassing $5.2 million in earnings. As a trainer, Wesley has won more than 1,000 races, and in 2009 he became the first American trainer to win a race at Royal Ascot in England.
Wesley won two, in fact, saddling Strike the Tiger and Jealous Again to win on successive days as his proud father looked on. “Believe me, it is the greatest experience I’ve ever had at a racetrack,” Dennis Ward said of the Royal Ascot experience and meeting royalty.
After spending the past couple of winters at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Ariz., Arizona, Ward is excited to be competing at Tampa Bay Downs. “It’s the only place I want to race that doesn’t have a casino,” he said, laughing. “We brought the right type of horses here that fit the program, and I love the turf course. I never get rid of a horse until I try it on the turf.”
Trainer William Bradley and jockey Huber Villa-Gomez each won two races on Friday’s card. In the fifth race, Bradley’s 4-year-old gelding Big Whiskey No Ice broke his maiden under jockey Willie Martinez, paying $15.80. Another Bradley runner, 4-year-old filly Gold Love – bred and owned by his father, Fred Bradley – broke her maiden under Luis Garcia.
Villa-Gomez won the second race on 3-year-old colt School Boy Heart, owned and trained by Ron Potts. The rider repeated in the third aboard 5-year-old Deputy Dawg Ali for owner-trainer William Downing.
Saturday’s 11-race card begins with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. The feature is the ninth race, a $30,000 allowance at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf for older horses. The likely favorite is Allie’s Event, a 6-year-old gelding owned and trained by Lori Smock and to be ridden by Scott Spieth.
Also on Saturday, 2011 Grade II Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Crimson Knight will compete in the seventh race, a $20,000 starter handicap at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass for older horses. Crimson Knight is owned by Winning Stables, Inc. and Ray Rech and trained by Gerald Bennett. Ronnie Allen, Jr. has been named to ride.
Since winning his first start after the Tampa Bay Derby on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs, Crimson Knight – a son of Leroidesanimaux-For My Pleasure – has finished third in the Oliver Stakes at Indiana Downs and second in the Capital City Stakes at Penn National, both turf races.
Saturday is Cap Giveaway Day. Each patron will receive a stylish gold-and-blue Tampa Bay Downs Cap with paid admission while supplies last.
Tampa Bay Downs trainer Lynne Scace has shipped her exceptional 4-year-old filly It’s Me Mom to Gulfstream for Saturday’s $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf, which will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs. It is the sixth race on Gulfstream’s program.
Regular jockey Willie Martinez will be aboard for owners Thomas and Jean Bosch of Holiday. It’s Me Mom is 2-for-2 at the current Tampa Bay Downs meeting, including a resounding victory in the Dec. 31 Minaret Stakes.
The seven-horse field includes 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner and Eclipse Award Female Sprinter Champion Musical Romance.
Live racing will also be held Sunday, then resume Wednesday. Tampa Bay Downs is open daily for simulcast action, no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.