Though he has raced at 11 different tracks during a 21-race career that has included two forays to England, Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) contender Undrafted is at his best when he's at trainer Wesley Ward's base near the rear entrance to Keeneland Race Course.
While Ward has a barn on the main premises of the Lexington track where this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships will be held Oct. 30-31, he also keeps a group of his best horses in a converted tobacco barn adjacent to Keeneland's Rice Road training center. Trainers stabled at the Rice Road complex year-round have been relocated to the so all the Breeders' Cup horses will be stabled can be stabled in one location, but Ward's facility has not.
With Undrafted seeking to improve off his third-place finish, only a half-length behind winner Bobby's Kitten , in last year's Turf Sprint at Santa Anita Park, Ward hopes being able to stay at home will mean a competitive advantage for the 5-year-old Purim gelding.
"He lives in that old tobacco barn right there," Ward said, while sitting in the Keeneland grandstand with a clear view of his stable operation on the nearby hillside. "He thrives there in that very peaceful, tranquil environment.
"He's settled in his ways. He's very content and likes to be left alone. When you bring him to a racetrack where there's a lot commotion and noise, he gets a little mentally shook. He's like the country boy coming to the city.
"Wherever he runs, whether in the States or abroad, I try to time it so it's right on top of the race so he doesn't fall apart and then get him right back home. With the Breeders' Cup being at Keeneland this year, I think it's going to be a big advantage, especially for him."
Produced from the French Deputy mare French Jeannette, Undrafted was bred in Kentucky by Catesby W. Clay and purchased for $50,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale. He is aptly named because Wes Welker, who owns the gelding with Sol Kumin, was an undrafted free agent when he entered the NFL and went on to an all-pro career.
Although he is probably best known for becoming Ward's first group I winner in England when he took the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at the Royal Ascot meet this year while carrying a hefty 129 pounds, Undrafted has earned a reputation as a sprint closer who is right there—but not good enough in most of his races.
Coming into the Cup, Undrafted has five wins, including the Jaipur Invitational Stakes (gr. IIIT) to his credit, but has finished second or third on 10 occasions. Before he became a turf specialist, Undrafted was on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2013, placing in the Swale (gr. III) and Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II).
Ward, who won two Breeders' Cup races last year with Hootenanny (Juvenile Turf, gr. IT) and Judy the Beauty (Filly & Mare Sprint, gr. I), says the distance of this year's Turf Sprint at 5 1/2 furlongs (due to the configuration of Keeneland's turf course) is not ideal for Undrafted, who is coming into the race off a second to Tourist in the $300,000 More Than Ready Mile Stakes at Kentucky Downs.
But the trainer is hopeful that 11-time Breeders' Cup winner and top European jockey Frankie Dettori can judge the ride to get Undrafted home on top this year.
"I really think his best distance is 6, 6 1/2, or seven furlongs. With Frankie Dettori at the controls hoefully he can pull some magic and get him up even if the distance is just a little short."
Ward, who also has Ruby Notion (Juvenile Fillies Turf, gr. IT) and Judy the Beauty (Filly & Mare Sprint)—will be attending his first Breeders' Cup in four years. He has missed the last three events because one of his sons was always competing in the Florida state cross-country championships at the same time as racing's championship day.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said.