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Texas trainer chases glory at Saratoga

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


Ronny Werner knows the trail, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Thoroughbred horse racing's two most recognizable trainers -- Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas -- started like the Texas-born 41-year-old, earning reputations and dollars as successful quarter horse trainers.

Werner, who started breaking horses with his father in Braunfels, Texas, switched to thoroughbreds with owner Tom Durant four years ago and the results are promising.

Werner continues his bid for the thoroughbred big time Saturday with Thunder Days, the 2-year-old son of one of Lukas' stars, Thunder Gulch, in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.

The winner of this, the first race in the Bessemer Trust 2-Year-Old Challenge, would earn $250,000 by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. Another $1-million would be added for reaching the winner's circle in the 2002 Kentucky Derby.

The field is expected to include Came Home (2-0 in two starts), Mayakovsky (1-for-1) and Lukas' Jump Start, 2-for-2 with a win in the Grade II Saratoga Special on Aug. 15.

Thunder Days, son of the 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner, has finished first and second in two maiden special weights.

His breeding earns him instant respect. That he is trained by a man with a growing reputation -- and track record -- as a young colt specialist makes him even more compelling.

There's no secret as to why quarter horse training is good preparation for juveniles like Thunder Days and Lunar Bounty, Werner said.

"The main money that's to be made in the quarter horses is your 2-year-olds," he said. "So, naturally, you've got to have them ready a little bit quicker mentally and physically. And so, I think that probably plays a part in maybe developing these (stages) a little bit -- a little bit faster."

Werner's older horses haven't been so bad either. Touch Tone gave Point Given a battle in finishing second in the Haskell Invitational. The $300,000 purse share will help Werner and Durant further the transition from claimers to yearling speculators.

Touch Tone is scheduled to run in the Pennsylvania Derby on Monday at Philadelphia Park and is being pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Classic.

PULL OVER: Came Home came east for the Hopeful, in part, because co-owner Trudy McCaffery didn't think her lightly raced colt was ready for the current 2-year-old rage: Officer, a Baffert colt who has won all three of his starts, including a 7-length victory in the Grade III Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 15 at Del Mar.

"At this point in time, we felt that this Officer really is a monster," she said. "And he's training so well over at Del Mar, we just thought it'd be an opportunity for us to come back east.

"Hopefully, we're going to meet him down the road. But we're just going to duck him right now and (it's) a good excuse to come to Saratoga."

HEAVY DUTY: Praise the Prince will pay a heavy price for his success when he goes to post today as the favorite in the Grade I, 23/8-mile, $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Hurdle Handicap at Saratoga.

The 6-year-old gelding has won six times in his past nine starts over jumps and is 2-for-2 on turf. He won Saratoga's other prestige steeplechase -- the Grade II A.P. Smithwick Handicap -- on Aug. 9, but gives up 18 pounds to his nearest competitor.

CLASSIC HYPE: After winning the Travers on Saturday and becoming the first thoroughbred to claim four straight million-dollar races, Point Given's next charge may be defending North America's honor in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

His expected duel with Galileo, also a 3-year-old, is gathering interest. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is conducting a fan poll on its Web site (ntra.com) as to whom would win between them.

Point Given won the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers since finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby.

HEAT STROKE: Hallowed Dreams was under veterinary watch after apparently suffering heatstroke while finishing third in a race on Sunday at Louisiana Downs. The 4-year-old filly gained notoriety for winning the first 16 races of her career before finishing third in the Millennium Stakes at Evangeline a year ago.

Selina Bremermann, assistant to trainer Lloyd Romero, told the Daily Racing Form she believed the horse overheated during the race, which was her second defeat in 25 races.

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