In Saturday’s Grade III $ 100,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington International Racecourse, trainer Wesley Ward will send out the lone two-time winner in the field of 12, Belinda Bateman’s Star Empire (GB). A juvenile son of Australian Group I winner Foxwedge (AUS), the colt won his debut in May by 6½ lengths before diverting to England with the prospect of running at Royal Ascot.
“He was training really, really good going into his first race,” Ward said. “The owner sent me three [Foxwedge weanlings] because they own the sire. I raised them with my horses I have on my ranch in Ocala, and I broke them and started training them knowing that the owners wanted to get to Royal Ascot. Everything worked great, but when I was working [Star Empire] on the grass down in Florida, he worked good, but you just didn’t see that fire in him like he was a grass horse even though he’s by a champion grass horse from Australia. So I brought him up to Keeneland and started breezing him on the dirt, and wow, they were eye-opening works. I ran him [at Belmont], and I was very confident when I ran him. I told John Velazquez, ‘look, just let him break and don’t win by too far.’”
Ward explained to the owners he didn’t think the colt showed the same spark on the grass, but he was willing to take Star Empire along to England if the owners wanted. And so the colt took a plane ride across the Atlantic, but once there failed to boost the trainer’s confidence.
“I worked him twice, but both times he was outworked,” Ward explained. “I told the owners, we can go ahead and run, but from what I see in his workouts he’s not going to win. It takes a real quality horse, which you have on the dirt, but not on the grass. He could be any kind of horse back in the States. So he went all the way over there and came all the way home without running.”
After his summer travels, Ward looked for the right spot to run Star Empire. He was entered in a 6½-furlong allowance-optional claimer at Presque Isle Downs on Aug. 9, which would be his first race on a synthetic surface. The colt sat further off the pace than he had in his first start three months prior, but found his best stride late and nabbed the win by a head at the wire.
“When he came home he had a little bit of jet-lag,” Ward said. “I didn’t see that same fire in his breezes as I had seen going into his first race. I looked for a secondary track where we could hopefully get a win and keep moving forward, and we found that with Presque Isle. It was a pretty contentious race – the horse that was second ran a really big race.”
Star Empire improved from his second win, according to his trainer, which helped with the decision to step him up in class in Saturday’s Grade III.
“Being that Star Empire won on the [synthetic] and showed a good run on it, I thought let me go to the Futurity being that it’s a graded race,” Ward remarked. “But now he’s been working back to where he was [at the start]; each and every week is better and better. He’s working 59 and change. We’re spotting two other horses in front of him, and he’s just mowing them down. So I’m really excited for the race. By what I see in the mornings he should really step his game up for this one. And of course he’ll have to, it being a Grade III, but I think he’s ready to.”
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2016 Paulick Report.