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by Steve Andersen of

Ward running the stable but shunning the spotlight- HORSE RACING, – CYPRESS, Calif. – With unwavering confidence, Dan Ward had a fast answer when asked last weekend whether Danuska’s My Girl and Vasilika could win Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday at Santa Anita.

“Both,” he said. “One has won three in a row at Santa Anita, and the other has won 10 in a row at Santa Anita. How many horses have done that?”

Never mind that the two runners were beaten in prep races at Keeneland earlier this month. Ward is greatly looking forward to Saturday’s races.

The success of those mares this year has been one of few highlights for Ward, best known as a longtime assistant to beleaguered Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

To start Danuska’s My Girl or Vasilika in the Breeders’ Cup, the horses were officially transferred from Hollendorfer to Ward earlier this month after Breeders’ Cup officials said they would honor Santa Anita’s policy of not allowing Hollendorfer to race at that track or others owned by the track’s parent company, The Stronach Group.

Four horses trained by Hollendorfer were euthanized as a result of injuries sustained in races or during training from late December to June 22, the day he was evicted from Santa Anita by track management. Hollendorfer relocated to Los Alamitos, where he has been based for most of the last four months.

Ward, 60, has been the listed trainer of the stable’s runners at the current Santa Anita meeting, which began Sept. 27. He has continued to work alongside Hollendorfer, who has a regular presence at Los Alamitos.

When the stable runs horses at Santa Anita, Ward attends. Hollendorfer does not.

The stable has shrunk from approximately 90 horses in Southern California during the summer to 45. With the reduction, the stable has lost its prominent position on the circuit. Through Sunday, Ward had one win with five starters at the Santa Anita autumn meeting. By comparison, Hollendorfer tied for the training title at the 2018 autumn meeting with Peter Miller, winning with 15 of 65 starters.

Under the circumstances, Ward said he is content based at Los Alamitos, about 30 miles from Santa Anita.

“It helps being over here,” he said. “It’s a good atmosphere and a safe surface.”

Hollendorfer took legal action against the Stronach-owned Golden Gate Fields in Northern California and Santa Anita in recent months, seeking to restore his right to race and train there. Hollendorfer lost both cases. In July, a San Diego County Superior Court judge ruled that Hollendorfer could race and train at Del Mar’s summer meeting.

Through the end of this year, Ward said the stable plans to send 30 horses to Del Mar for the track’s four-week autumn meeting and have a sizeable presence at the two-week Los Alamitos meeting in December. At those meetings, the horses will race in Hollendorfer’s name, as Danuska’s My Girl and Vasilika did at Keeneland earlier this month.

Plans for the early months of 2020 are uncertain.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do tomorrow,” Ward said. “That’s what I know.”

Ward said he is hopeful Hollendorfer can reach a resolution with Santa Anita to allow him to race there this winter. Without that arrangement, Ward said he would like to be based at Los Alamitos and race at Santa Anita. The stable may have horses at the lucrative Oaklawn Park meeting that begins Jan. 24.

“It all comes down to whether he will be able to run at Santa Anita,” Ward said of Hollendorfer.

Hollendorfer politely declined to discuss the issues surrounding his stable last Saturday.

Ward has essentially spent his adult life in racing, working for the late Bobby Frankel before joining Hollendorfer’s team in 2007. With Frankel, Ward worked his way through the ranks, beginning as a groom.

“The education is priceless,” he said. “You can’t get that schooling.”

With the experience, Ward has been frequently asked if he would break away and form his own stable.

“If someone says that to me, I’ll do it,” he said. “Yep. It’s great to ride in the backseat, but sometimes you want to take the wheel. I’d be lying to say I didn’t think about it.”

To do so would force the end of a 12-year arrangement with Hollendorfer.

“He’s not in favor of that,” Ward said. “He doesn’t want me to leave, but he won’t say that.”

For now, the focus is on Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races, with Danuska’s My Girl starting in the Filly and Mare Sprint at seven furlongs and Vasilika in the Filly and Mare Turf at 1 1/4 miles.

Danuska’s My Girl, a former $62,500 claimer in 2018, won two Grade 3 stakes for fillies and mares at six furlongs at Santa Anita in the spring – the Las Flores Stake on April 7 and the Desert Stormer Stakes on May 19. She was sixth of nine in the Grade 2 TCA Stakes on Oct. 5 at Keeneland.

“Danuska is one of the best older filly and mare sprinters in the nation,” Ward said. “She likes Santa Anita.”

Vasilika, claimed for $40,000 in February 2018, has since won 13 of 16 starts, including six stakes at Santa Anita. She was third by 3 3/4 lengths to Uni in a race too short for her liking, Ward said.

“It seems as she’s gotten older she likes more distance,” Ward said. “I think the mile and a quarter is good for her.”

Danuska’s My Girl and Vasilika may put Ward in racing’s spotlight if they win Saturday. He says he would rather remain behind the scenes, particularly if asked to speak in a press conference.

“I’ll defer to the owner and rider,” he said.

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