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April 24, 2019


by Mike Henry
Five victories from last nine starters enable Dennis Ward to pull out Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month Award.

With knee replacement surgery scheduled next month, Dennis Ward has spent the past several weeks downsizing his stable by selling most of his stock and sending a few horses to other trainers.

But Ward, who is planning to return to training when Colonial Downs in Virginia begins its 2019 meeting in August, pulled a giant-sized rabbit out of his cowboy hat despite the numbers to earn the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month Award.


Dennis Ward

The 72-year-old conditioner sent out 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Sum Mo Cash to win today’s second race, a 5-furlong dash on the turf. Pablo Morales was aboard. The victory was the third this season for Sum Mo Cash and Ward’s fifth from his nine most recent starters, giving him the edge for the award in a spirited competition.

“They’re all at their peak and ready to run,” said Ward, who prefers a regimen of light training for most of his horses. “When they go into a race, I want them to feel as good as they can.”

Ward, who races the majority of his horses under the Ridenjac Racing banner of himself and partner Jeanne Shand, is down to four horses. “I don’t train for anybody else,” said Ward, who celebrated career victory No. 1,000 in August at Gulfstream. “I might take on a couple of partners, but I don’t like to get those phone calls at all hours.”

That aversion might be the only concession to age from Ward, who accompanies many of his horses on a stable pony during their morning work and works as a pony rider during the races. Those duties will come to a halt for the foreseeable future as he gets used to a new right knee.

“I don’t know the last time I’ve taken a few months off,” said Ward, who first gained recognition in 1962 as a top apprentice jockey at Longacres in Washington state and began training in the early 1970s at Portland Meadows in Oregon.

“All those times I hit the ground in my younger days, the old guys would ask ‘Don’t you feel that?’ and I’d said ‘No.’ They said ‘Don’t worry, you will when you get older,’ and they were right,” Ward said.

Ward had his best season at Tampa Bay Downs two years ago, sending out 32 winners to finish third in the standings. He also won the Tampa Bay Downs owners title that season with 22 victories.

Ward is the father of trainer Wesley Ward, who won a pair of Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita in 2014 and has trained such outstanding graded-stakes winners as Sunset Glow, Judy the Beauty, Hootenanny and Undrafted. Like his dad, Wesley was a top apprentice jockey, winning an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Apprentice in 1984.

Ward is already looking forward to the start of the 2019-2020 Oldsmar season. “I don’t think it will take me long to recover. I’ll claim a bunch and go to Palm Meadows (in Boynton Beach, on Florida’s east coast) to get them ready, and by the time we get back here (in November), we should be up to 15 or 20.”

Derby fever reaching a boiling point. On Saturday, May 4, the Oldsmar oval will present a 12-race card leading to the simulcast of the 145th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve from Churchill Downs in Louisville. First-race post time here will be noon.

Patrons will be dressed to the nines in Derby finery, adding to the pageantry and aura of Thoroughbred racing’s greatest spectacle, and mint juleps will be sold in commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses, which sport the names of each winner from Aristides in 1875 through Justify in 2018.

Kentucky Derby Day at the Downs will be enhanced by a pair of $100,000, mile-and-40-yard local stakes races for 3-year-olds: the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Silver Charm Florida Sire Stakes for males and the FTBOA Ivanavinalot Florida Sire Stakes for fillies. Both contests are for registered Florida-breds sired by an FTBOA-registered Florida stallion.

Tampa Bay Downs “graduates” are likely to occupy three of the 20 available positions in the Run for the Roses starting gate.

That trio includes Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner and Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Tacitus; Florida-bred Win Win Win, who won the Pasco Stakes here on Jan. 19 and finished third in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and second in the Toyota Blue Grass; and Spinoff, who posted a dominant allowance/optional claiming victory here on Feb. 22 and was second in the Louisiana Derby.

Around the oval. Pablo Morales rode two winners today. He triumphed in the second race on the turf on Sum Mo Cash, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Ridenjac Racing and trained by Dennis Ward. Morales added a victory in the fourth on the turf with Executive Bonus, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Big E Stables and trained by Dale Bennett.

Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule through May 5, which is Fan Appreciation Day. Thoroughbred action then will return June 30 and July 1 for the track’s annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing.

The Sunday, June 30 card is the last official day of the 2018-2019 meeting, with the 2019-2020 meeting beginning on Monday, July 1 and expected to resume in late November.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.