For Dan Ward, the next “first” he experiences as a trainer since taking over 29 horses from Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer a little more than a month ago will be an ambitious one.
Wild Mule, a Jersey-bred – but one that is 3-for-3 sprinting at Monmouth Park – will take on eight rivals in Saturday’s $100,000 Jersey Shore Stakes, an open six-furlong dash for 3-year-olds that headlines Monmouth Park’s 10-race card.
This will be the first stakes try for Ward since Hollendorfer assigned his Monmouth Park-Oaklawn division to his long-time assistant on July 1. Hollendorfer announced he is scaling back to focus on his California runners.
“I thought a straight 3-year-old stakes might be easier than a `two-other-than (allowance)’ against older horses for Wild Mule,” said Ward. “During the winter he ran against some good horses at Oaklawn and he held his own. I think the change we made two races ago to put the blinkers on has helped a lot.”
Wild Mule, owned and bred by New Farm, has been idle for just under 12 weeks since winning against state-bred allowance company at Monmouth Park on May 14. Ward has been shopping for a spot for the son of Army Mule for more than a month now.
“It’s the same thing everywhere. Some races are hard to get to go,” said Ward. “Coach Adams and Trumpence won starter allowances easily. The next time we tried to find races for them we couldn’t, so we had to run them in tougher spots.
“But I think that happens to everybody.”
Ward, 64, has a 4-3-4 line from 21 starters at the meet since the transfer of horses from Hollendorfer.
“They’re all running good,” he said. “I’m satisfied with what we’ve done so far. Four for 21 is a nice start.”
Though he has appeared to make a seamless transition to now being the trainer of record, Ward has noticed the difference after serving as an assistant to Bobby Frankel for 22 years and then for Hollendorfer since 2007.
“There’s a lot more responsibility and a lot more communication with the owners, keeping them up to date,” he said. “And there is more pressure.”
Wild Mule enters Saturday with a 3-2-1 line from eight career starts, having banked $176,352 for his career. His three wins have all come at Monmouth Park.
But the Jersey Shore Stakes appears to have come up as a daunting challenge, with Recruiter (Cal Lynch), Squire Creek (Brad Cox), Super Chow (Jorge Delgado), Swirvin (Saffie Joseph, Jr.) and Heldish (Mike Maker) among the formidable opposition in the field.
“To win my first stakes, especially with a Jersey-bred at Monmouth Park, would be fantastic,” said Ward.