You don’t usually see Wesley Ward holding court at Oaklawn Park. But the renowned trainer of younger horse carries an open secret that he hopes Happy Soul can broadcast to horseracing fans Saturday in the Listed Dixie Belle Stakes.
That secret? Yes, Ward usually holds court at Keeneland or Royal Ascot. But he wins sprints at Oaklawn Park. He’s won two Oaklawn stakes sprints each of the last two years: the Purple Martin for 3-year-old filly sprinters in 2020 and last year’s Spring Fever for older female sprinters.
Both victories came from Ward’s standout filly sprinter, Kimari, now a 5-year-old mare. She sold for $2.7 million at last fall’s Fasig-Tipton November Sale, whereupon Coolmore Stud returned her to Ward for her 5-year-old season.
Now, it’s Happy Soul’s turn to carry on Ward’s Oaklawn sprint success. The 3-year-old filly is the 9/5 morning-line favorite for the six-furlong Dixie Belle. Expect those odds to plummet toward post time.
Happy Soul returns after pneumonia bout
This is Happy Soul’s first start since last June 3, when she destroyed the Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park by 11 ½ lengths. The start before that, a May 13 maiden special weight, Happy Soul shredded her fellow maidens by 11 ¾ lengths. And in her career debut, against males last April at Ward’s Keeneland base, Happy Soul finished second to stablemate Nakatomi by 2 ¼ lengths. It was 12 lengths back to Atta Boy Anthony in third.
She was favored in all three races.
Ward said the eight-month absence was a byproduct of Happy Soul contracting pneumonia. She resumed training in November and Ward originally pondered sending the daughter of Runhappy to Santa Anita for last Saturday’s 6 ½-furlong Grade 3 Sweet Life Stakes. Instead of sending Happy Soul down Santa Anita’s unique hillside turf course in that race, Ward called an audible and sent her to Oaklawn for the Dixie Belle.
Johnny V follows Happy Soul to Oaklawn
For good measure, John Velazquez – Happy Soul’s regular rider – joined her in Arkansas.
“She’s been training great all winter long,” Ward told Oaklawn’s Robert Yates. “Johnny had her next-to-last workout. Love it. Mike Smith worked her last time. Loved her. Can’t get better endorsements from those two guys, right?”
It doesn’t hurt. Nor does taking off the blinkers, which Ward is doing for the first time. He said it’s a normal feature at his barn: put the blinkers on at 2, take them off at 3. He’s also putting her on Lasix, which Ward said “kind of takes the edge off of nervousness.”
‘She’s very fast’
Whatever nerves Happy Soul may have for the Dixie Belle should have been eased by a bullet five-furlong workout (57.70) Jan. 25 at Palm Meadows in Florida. Two more solid works: a five-furlong 59.40 at Santa Anita Feb. 6 and a four-furlong 48.40 Feb. 13 were both among the fastest at that distance that day.
“She’s fast. She’s very fast,” Ward said. “We broke her from the gate as well prior to that (Jan. 25) work, so she’s got that little bit of a gate refresher. I think she’ll break well and Johnny can put her – the first 10 steps coming out of there – he’ll be able to just go ahead and decide to put her wherever he thinks that she should be. But in her first couple of starts, she was extremely quick.”
How quick? In that 4 ½-furlong debut race, Happy Soul opened with a career-best 96 Equibase Speed Figure. Against the boys. Her slowest was an 88 she ran in the maiden-breaking debut she won by nearly 12 lengths.
Nerves don’t appear to be an issue here.