HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – No Nay Never certainly looks the part.
“His physical make-up is striking. It’s like the ultimate specimen of a horse,” said trainer Wesley Ward Wednesday morning at Gulfstream Park. “He has a beautiful head, a beautiful shoulder. He has a beautiful hip on him. He’s pitch black, not a spot of bay on him. He’s just gorgeous.”
No Nay Never debuted at Keeneland on April 26, scoring a two-length lead in a 4 ½-furlong maiden race over a synthetic surface. Ward, who became the first American-based trainer to saddle a winner at the Royal Ascot meeting in 2009, shipped the Kentucky-bred colt to England to run next during the world’s most prestigious Thoroughbred meeting in June. Ward, who saddled Strike the Tiger for a 33-1 upset in the Windsor Castle Stakes and, a day later, scored with Jealous Again in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) in 2009, returned to the Royal Ascot winner’s circle with No Nay Never, who captured the six-furlong Norfolk Stakes (G2) by a length under Joel Rosario.
“I didn’t think he could lose,” Ward said. “I’ve never gone over there when I didn’t think I could win, but this year, I really didn’t think he could lose.”
No Nay Never was sent back to Europe in August, when he closed from off the pace to capture the six-furlong Prix Morny (G1) by a length under David Flores at Deauville in France.
While Ward has dominated with 2-year-olds during the early season, particularly at Keeneland, the Washington native knew No Nay Never was much more than a precocious colt the first time he saw him breeze.
“It was like watching a high school athlete against middle schoolers,” Ward said. “Or a college athlete against high schoolers, or a professional athlete against college.”
Owned by Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith and Ice Wine Stable, the well-traveled colt was given some time off after his second trip to Europe.
“He takes it all in stride. His races were spaced out from his first to his last. I thought if I kept pressing forward for the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile) or whatever other race, it would have gotten on his mind and maybe he’d get a little speed crazy,” Ward said. “When I stopped with him last year, I had this race in mind.”
No Nay Never is expected to face six rivals entered Wednesday for the seven-furlong Swale. Havana, who captured the Champagne (G1) and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last season, appears to be the most imposing rival for No Nay Never, who is slated to make his first dirt start in the Swale with Javier Castellano in the saddle for the first time.
“It seems to me that Gulfstream is his preferred surface. That’s a little scary with all he’s accomplished,” said Ward, whose colt has trained brilliantly over Gulfstream’s main track. “I’m really excited for this race. I usually don’t get too excited for races. I’m really excited that Havana’s going to be in there. Obviously, you’d like an easier race to come back in, but he is training so good right now. I think it will let him show his true class.”
Havana is slated to make his first start since the Juvenile, in which he was forced to race extremely wide after breaking from his far outside post position, took the lead in the stretch and tired late to check in behind New Year’s Day.
“We just wanted to freshen him up a little bit after the Breeders’ Cup and we got behind schedule a touch, but we’ve been able to make up some ground with a solid work pattern over the past month or so,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who named John Velazquez to ride the son of Dunkirk. “His fitness level looks good. I think he’s coming up to it well.”
Havana, also owned by Tabor, Magnier and Smith, broke his maiden at Saratoga in August, winning a 5 ½-furlong race by 2 ¾ lengths. He jumped right into Grade 1 stakes company at Belmont for his second start and captured the Champagne by a neck. Favored in the Juvenile despite his poor post position, the Kentucky-bred colt appeared on his way to his third-straight victory before faltering at Santa Anita.
“I thought he ran very well. Unfortunately, he finished second. It looked like he was going to win at the eighth-pole and he kind of hung the last part of it,” Pletcher said. “We’re trying to determine how far he wants to go.”
Prudhoe Bay, Breitling Flyer and Can’t Stop the Kid – who finished 1-2-3, respectively, in the OBS Sprint at Ocala Training Center on Jan. 21 – were all entered in the Swale.
Spot and Brothersofthetime round out the seven-horse field.