Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Behind Wesley Ward Is A Loyal, Larger-Than-Life Crew Of Talent - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Behind Wesley Ward Is A Loyal, Larger-Than-Life Crew Of Talent

From left to right Manuel Frausto, Wesley Ward and Jose Reveles. Photos courtesy of Wesley Ward

Wesley Ward is on a roll.

With 20 victories, including four stakes races, Ward recently secured his seventh training title at Keeneland Race Course, tying him with Henry Forrest for third all-time.

Ward, who owns a mind-blowing 11 victories at Royal Ascot after becoming the first American to win there in 2009, is set to take another loaded lineup overseas from June 15-19.

According to Equibase, Ward was winning at a torrid 33 percent clip through May 22, with 65 victories from 197 starters. His horses had hit the board 60 percent of the time. He won at a 26 percent rate (125 of 477) last year and recorded his 2,000th career victory on May 6 with Ken Ramsey's Gold for Kitten at Churchill Downs.

Ward would be the first to credit such extraordinary success to his team approach. In an industry in which backstretch help comes and goes with maddening frequency, exercise rider Mike Clark and grooms Jose Reveles and Manuel Frausto are constants he counts on.

Clark has been part of the operation since Ward began training on his own in 1991. He shows the way for all of the riders during training hours. Reveles and Frausto are cousins who hail from Mexico and came to the United States in search of a better life.  They have been in place for more than three decades. They set the tone for other grooms in their understanding of the attention to detail necessary for success.

Ward said of the constant presence of the three veterans: “It means everything. We're all here and we're all working as a team.”

Ward currently oversees approximately 100 horses in addition to a breeding farm in Lexington.

“It seems like a lot, but it really isn't because every morning of every day everybody has a job to do that they've done for years,” the trainer said, adding, “If it wasn't for everybody doing their jobs, this would not work. One spoke out of the wheel and the tire would go flat.”

It helps that Ward is multilingual, as he says, speaking Spanish and “Hillbilly” fluently. The latter describes the colorful, ungrammatical language used by Clark, a former rodeo rider and jockey who talks as fast as he lives. The Arizona native has a wild side that never quits.

“As talented as he is on top of a horse,” Ward said, “when his boots are on the ground, he's that big of a nightmare.”

When it comes to smoking cigarettes, drinking and carousing, apparently Clark has few equals. He readily admits to numerous excesses, especially in his youth. He is forever grateful to Ward for his willingness to forgive countless transgressions.

Mike Clark, photo courtesy Wesley Ward

“No matter what happened, no matter what we did, we stuck together,” Clark said. “He's a loyal man.”

Clark's uncommon horsemanship made it easier to look past his sins.

“People say I've got a gift,” he said. “Nobody taught me. I taught myself.”

Clark is a major factor in Ward's ability to develop precocious 2-year-olds that literally get a jump on the competition thanks to their sharpness breaking from the starting gate.

Clark credits his success with all kinds of horses to the way he approaches them: with love, without fear.

“As long as you are nice to them and not mean to them, they don't want to hurt you,” he said.

There seemingly is not a horse that Clark cannot handle. Ward thought back almost two decades ago to a recalcitrant filly that was under Todd Pletcher's care at Palm Beach Downs in South Florida. The filly would reach the track and begin to spin around and carry on, steadfastly refusing to train.

After watching this repeatedly play out, Ward, who had yet to establish himself, approached the accomplished Pletcher.

“I have a guy who can get on this filly, no problem,” Ward told him.

A couple of weeks later, the owner was coming to see his filly train. Pletcher, desperate for an answer, took up Ward's offer. Ward, in turn, made an unusual request. He did not want Clark to be paid for the additional work.

“If he gets a bunch of money, he's going to make a left turn on me,” Ward explained.

That did not keep Clark from taking a left turn the night before his date with Pletcher's mercurial filly.

“He had gone out with this young blacksmith I had,” Ward recalled. “They were shooting pool, drinking whiskey and carrying on.”

And it showed. Clark was badly hung over as he approached the filly without any trepidation. A cigarette dangled from his lip. He was sipping a Heineken in an effort to ease his severe hangover. And yet, when he hopped aboard, the enigmatic filly followed his cues and trained as never before.

Pletcher was appreciative, but he did not know what to make of it all.

“If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes,” he told Ward, “I wouldn't have believed it.”

For all that he lacks in appearance, the toothless Clark has built an international reputation and is a popular figure wherever he ventures. Elite jockeys Frankie Dettori and Joel Rosario, who have benefitted from the way he prepares Ward's finest stock, each offered to pay for his badly-needed dental work in what continues to be running joke. Clark, while acknowledging how frequently he strayed from the straight and narrow, is proud of what he has helped to build. He recalled the early days with Ward, when they tried to make something of horses obtained for anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.

He appreciates how far they have come.

“When we first started, we were broke. We had nothing. We kept going and kept going,” he said. “Now, we're thankful we've got good owners and we're doing pretty good.”

Current success stemmed from the ability of Clark, Reveles and Frausto to make as much as possible out of little.

“Some guys just have that touch and that feel. It's hard to teach. It just has to be bred into them or start at a young age,” Ward said. “It would be like a painter. They take that paint brush and away they go. Picasso.”

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

If you wish to suggest a backstretch worker as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the employee's background.

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