In the days leading up to the 147th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1), usracing.com is profiling all the contenders. The 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs is May 1, and the first leg of the Triple Crown. All profiles will be updated with post positions, odds, and jockeys following the draw on Tuesday, April 27.
Kentucky Derby 2021 Profile: Like the King
By Ed McNamara
If the Kentucky Derby were run at 5 1/2 furlongs on grass instead of 1 1/4 miles on dirt, this wouldn’t be Wesley Ward’s first starter in America’s Race.
Ward’s game is cranking up young sprinters, and nobody plays it better. He’s been a trailblazer in England, where he’s excelled with 2-year-olds at the world’s most prestigious meeting, Royal Ascot.
In 2009 he became the first American-based trainer to win there, his first of 11 victories. Two years ago, he won a stakes and was summoned to Queen Elizabeth’s suite to talk racing.
Like the King, a son of 2013 Belmont Stakes hero Palace Malice, qualified for the Derby with a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby Steaks (not Stakes) on the Tapeta surface at Turfway Park. (The only horse to hit the Turfway-Derby double is Animal Kingdom in 2011.)
Like the King, who was on or near the pace in his first five races, showed a new dimension in the Jeff Ruby. He rallied from seventh early and overcame trouble on the far turn to beat fellow Derby entry Sainthood by a length.
“He’s a big, rangy colt,” Ward said, who on April 17 had Derby rider Drayden Van Dyke breeze him 6 furlongs in 1:12.80 with standout Canadian sprinter Artie’s Princess at Keeneland. “That was a good work, and the filly he worked with is a champion.”
Major concern: Like the King was second and third, beaten a total of 19 3/4 lengths, in his two starts on dirt. Don’t expect dramatic improvement against by far the best field he’s ever faced.
Kentucky Derby 2021 Entries: Like the King
Post position: TBD
Trainer: Wesley Ward
Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke
Owner: M Racing Group
Career record: 6-3-2-1
Career earnings: $200,680
Derby qualifying points: 104 (4th)
Best Equibase speed figure: 95
Pedigree: Palace Malice-Like a Queen, by Corinthian
Running style: Front-runner/stalker
Notes: Ward, 53, won the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice in 1984. In 1991, two years after ending a successful riding career, he took out his trainer’s license. He has four Breeders’ Cup wins, all on turf … Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, a three-time Derby winner, is the agent for Van Dyke, a Louisville native who has ridden mainly in Southern California. He finished fourth in the 2018 Derby on Instilled Regard and 19th in 2019 on Gray Magician.