Eye Witness victorious in the Paradise Creek under Jose Ortiz (Chelsea Durand)
Funtastic Again Could Target G1 Belmont Derby Invitational
Arrest Me Red to G1 Jaipur, Happy Soul to G3 Intercontinental
NYRA Press Office
ELMONT, N.Y.— Trainer Wesley Ward is hopeful that Saturday’s triumph in the $150,000 Paradise Creek is only the beginning of a prominent year for New York-bred Eye Witness, who registered an 86 Beyer Speed Figure for a narrow victory over late-charging Inflation Nation in the seven-furlong test over a yielding Widener turf course at Belmont Park.
Piloted by Jose Ortiz, Eye Witness stalked the pace from a close fourth-to-fifth down the backstretch before angling wide around the far turn and establishing a 1 1/2-length advantage at the stretch call. Multiple stakes-placed Inflation Nation launched a menacing bid to his inside, but Eye Witness held on to win by a head in a final time of 1:25.32.
Eye Witness, bred in the Empire State by Anlyn Farms, entered the Paradise Creek off a pair of triumphs over Turfway Park’s all weather surface. Following a second out graduation going a two-turn mile on New Year’s Day, the son of second crop sire City of Light returned on March 25 to capture his stakes debut in the six-furlong Animal Kingdom by five lengths.
“I’m excited about this guy, he’s developed into a really nice colt,” Ward said. “He’s a big colt and, like his sire, he took a while to really get going. As time has gone by, he’s gotten better and better.”
Ward said the Grade 3, $250,000 Manila going one mile on July 7 at Belmont would likely be his next objective, followed by the Grade 2, $500,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course. Ward also mentioned the $125,000 Rick Violette for New York-breds on August 17 going 1 1/16 miles over the Spa turf as another possible landing spot.
“I’d like to get him going a mile,” Ward said. “I think he’ll be better going two turns, and he is a New York-bred. I was looking at the Manila and, if he keeps progressing you would definitely want to look at the Hall of Fame as well. I’m looking at those two races.”
Owned by Westerberg, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Jonathan Poulin, Eye Witness was a $650,000 purchase at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the Mr. Greeley mare Gracilia. He is a half-brother to stakes-winner More Mischief.
Ward saddled Three Chimneys Farm’s Funtastic Again to a runner-up finish under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez in Saturday’s one mile James W. Murphy on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico Race Course.
The son of turf stayer Funtastic captured the Leonatus on January 21 at Turfway Park in frontrunning fashion before a distant third to eventual Kentucky Derby runner-up Two Phil’s in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 25 at the northern Kentucky oval.
Ward said the Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational going 10 furlongs on July 8 is an appealing option for the chestnut sophomore.
“We’ll see how the race comes up and if we get invited,” Ward said. “If he’s in front and they’re going super slow early going a mile and quarter, mile and a half, he’ll be able to kick right on.”
Ward recalled Funtastic Again’s career debut last summer at Belmont, where he finished a distant seventh to eventual stakes winner Oxymore going six furlongs over the inner turf. He improved astronomically in his following effort through the Spa’s Wilson Chute in an off-the-turf one-mile maiden event, which he won by 6 1/2 lengths.
“I was so high on this horse going into his first race. His first race had me scratching my head because he had such great works,” Ward said. “I ran him in an off the turf maiden at Saratoga and he won. I always had wanted to get him back on the grass but was kind of scared to do it. When he showed that affinity for the all weather surface, I really thought he would like it, and he did. I asked Johnny after the race if he liked the grass and he told me he loved it. The second thing I asked him was, ‘How far do you think he’ll go?’ and Johnny said, ‘He’ll keep on running.’”
Ward compared Funtastic Again to dirt sprinting stablemate Nakatomi, who finished a late-rallying third in Saturday’s Grade 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico.
“Both horses are pace determined. They might not be the best in the race, but sometimes they’re the best on the day,” Ward said.
Funtastic Again is out of the Broken Vow mare Repeta and is a half-brother to graded stakes-placed filly Lady Glamour. He was bought for $60,000 as a weanling from the 2020 Keeneland November Sale.
Looking ahead, Ward said he plans on sending Lael Stables’ Arrest Me Red to the Grade 1, $400,000 Jaipur on Belmont Stakes Day, June 10 and Gayla Rankin’s Happy Soul to the Grade 3, $200,000 Intercontinental on June 9.
A narrow second to Casa Creed in last year’s Jaipur, Arrest Me Red was a close third in the Grade 2 Shakertown on April 7 at Keeneland, where he broke from the outside in the 12-horse field under Joel Rosario. The 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile returned four weeks later to run fifth as the lukewarm favorite in the Grade 2 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.
Ward said the wide post was a deterrent in the Shakertown.
“Rosario had said he thought he was the best horse in the race, but he had to go a little wide,” Ward said. “He really ran a big race over a course that he doesn’t like that much. He’s had some good works and some okay works over this surface. Then, coming back in the race at Churchill the races were a little too close together. Now we have a good five weeks between races and I think that will really suit him.”
Happy Soul was a close fourth in the Giant’s Causeway on April 15 at Keeneland, where she finished 1 3/4 lengths behind victorious stable mate Twilight Gleaming. The daughter of medication free stallion Runhappy is a dual stakes winner on dirt and will make only her third start on grass in the Intercontinental. She captured the local Astoria in runaway fashion in June 2021 and captured Oaklawn Park’s Dixie Belle the following February, both going gate-to-wire under John Velazquez.
But Ward said the now 4-year-old Happy Soul has switched running styles and is looking for come-from-behind tactics with the bay filly.
“A lot of these horses on dirt show speed early on in their career and they just can’t carry it on and then when they switch to the grass, they can keep running,” Ward said. “Johnny has ridden this filly her whole life. I won the [Giant’s Causeway] with Twilight Gleaming, who made one big run and that will be the plan moving forward in the Intercontinental. I want Johnny to go back and make one big run with her.”
Happy Soul was a $50,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the Stephen Got Even mare Cowgirl Lucky.