Thursday, May 17, 2001

BALTIMORE Monarchos trainer John Ward is a traditionalist who is at odds with contemporary rivals. It may earn him the first Triple Crown in 23 years.
While other trainers will work their horses hard at least once leading up to Saturday’s 126th Preakness Stakes, Monarchos simply will gallop twice around the track each morning.
“I think I’m going over there with a lot fresher horse than people have in recent years,” Ward said. “People are able to send fresh horses at you so much more readily than they used to 20 years ago. There weren’t as many people vying for the Triple Crown. Now there’s always somebody waiting for you with a fresh animal. Monarchos has a pretty patented game, and I would feel it chancy to adjust his game.”
Ward won’t be swayed into changing tactics amid backstretch second-guessing about Monarchos’ readiness. The third-generation trainer won the Kentucky Derby without working Monarchos hard over the preceding week, allowing the horse to chase all three spring classics.
Affirmed was the last thoroughbred to earn the sweep in 1978. Ward believes current trainers have abandoned the old-style system of resting horses between Triple Crown races. Many thoroughbreds are too worn from rigorous 2-year-old campaigns and several preps to endure hard workouts and three races in five weeks. None of the 15 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners has won the Derby.
Ward won’t overtrain Monarchos, because he fears the six Triple Crown newcomers in the Preakness and potentially several more in the 133rd Belmont Stakes on June 9. Trainer Joe Orseno bypassed the Preakness to rest fourth-place Derby finisher Thunder Blitz for the Belmont. That’s why Ward is considering all three races in Monarchos’ training.
After all, Monarchos already has overcome the sore hocks that Ward said plague nearly all runners. The 3-year-old colt trained extensively on the hard track surface at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., during the winter, forcing Ward to inject acid into his small joints to avoid cartilage damage.
The toughest of the Triple Crown races is the Preakness, Ward said. Monarchos’ late move may be better suited for the longer Derby (1 1/4 miles) and Belmont (1 1/2 miles) than the Preakness (1 3/16), though only one Preakness winner since 1983 led by the final turn.
“I thought if I could get by the Derby, the Belmont would be really suited for Monarchos,” Ward said. “I don’t think Pimlico should hurt him, but it’s the race I’m more concerned about. It tends to favor front-end running horses. I feel confident that he is on top of his game physically and mentally. I’m just scared of Pimlico race track itself.”
Ward first spotted Monarchos at a 2-year-old sale last year, hoping to replicate his success in 1998, when he bought future Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus for Japanese owner Fusao Sekiguchi. Monarchos impressed Ward as a “Little Leaguer in a baseball hat with bony elbows and bony knees that was still very fluid on the race track.” Ward wrote the same “24B” description on his program that he used earlier on Fusaichi Pegasus to denote the colts’ medium builds and athleticism.
“Monarchos reminded me of a red Suzuki motorcycle zipping by you in traffic,” Ward said. “He drops two inches lower, lengthens his body out, pins his ears back and goes in and out of traffic. He doesn’t appear he’s lunging. He’s just speeding up. He’s so powerful in his shoulder that he has this turn of foot and moves laterally left and right. He’s like he’s on rollerblades instead of hooves.”
With two straight Derby winners at the annual sales, Ward is already planning for the next this summer, although fellow bidders will undoubtedly note his interest. That could increase the bidding by hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Ward isn’t intimidated.
“I’m looking at this year’s 2-year-olds already, watching them go,” he said. “Can we dig another one out of there? It is fleeting. Can I be in the right place this year at the sales and recognize them?”

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