Written by Joe Bianca (www.thethoroughbreddailynews.com)
Tom Morley had waited a while to use the name. The British-born trainer, expanding his footprint in racing every year, laid eyes on a handsome colt by Flat Out at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale and ended up as the winning bidder in conjunction with Boomer Bloodstock for $150,000. Since then, that purchase has been a revelation for Morley and as such, has earned the name Westerdale, in tribute to the small rolling-field village in North Yorkshire, England where Morley grew up. This past Sunday, the equine Westerdale showed himself capable of living up to that honour with an impressive 14 3/4-length, maiden-breaking romp at rainy Aqueduct.
“He was a smashing-looking yearling and his pedigree would suggest a horse who’s going to get better the older he is,” Morley said Wednesday. “He was always a colt where we envisioned his 3, 4, 5-year-old years being his most important on the track.” Westerdale has always been ahead of schedule, however, and after getting rave reviews in his early training, Morley split up the horse’s equity among clients Jerry Zaro, Mike Lyden, Paul Braverman and Imaginary Stables, while making sure not to divest entirely. “I loved the horse an enormous amount myself, so I decided to keep a 25% interest,” he said.
Westerdale made his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs Oct. 20 at Belmont, and was good a third behind ‘TDN Rising Star’ and subsequent stakes winner Mask (Tapit). Considering that wasn’t the unveiling spot Morley had envisioned, he was encouraged by the ridgling’s run.
“He came to me in super fashion three weeks before Saratoga and I left him at Belmont,” he said. “In the typical European style, I slowly ticked away at him getting him ready for the fall. He’s an extremely straightforward colt to train, never missed a day and we’re in no rush with him. We entered him in a race that didn’t go, which was a bit frustrating since he was ready about a month before he debuted. Then he debuted in a very hot maiden race on paper. I’m a slightly smaller trainer than Kiaran [McLaughlin], [Bill] Mott, Todd [Pletcher] and Chad [Brown], who all had runners in that maiden, but I wasn’t at all surprised to see how well he ran.”
The dark bay made the lead prematurely in that effort before flattening some in the lane, producing an effort that was the perfect building block as Morley aimed to stretch him out. “He wanted to just jump out of the gate and run and had a bit of a more juvenile performance in that sense,” Morley said of Westerdale’s debut. “He didn’t relax, was very raw and got run down. Obviously Mask has won a stake since and I was very encouraged by that, especially with the pedigree suggesting he wanted no part of 6 1/2.” Westerdale was third again going a mile at the Big A Nov. 23, stalking the pace more professionally but showing a bit of immaturity when relinquishing a stretch lead.
“Again it was a very solid bunch of horses, but it wasn’t totally surprising to see him run as greenly as he did,” Morley said. “He was accustomed to Belmont and had been training there. He hit the front at the top of the lane, but was looking at the grandstand and stayed on his left lead.” Morley and his co-owners decided to give their charge a small break to prepare for his 3-year-old campaign, when they had anticipated him starting to hit his best stride all along. “Anything he did as a 2-year-old was going to be a bonus in our eyes,” Morley said. “We decided we would give him 30 days off. I’m very much of the European ilk where for these Classic-type 3-year-olds, you get a start or two in them at two, then give them a bit of a break to mature over the winter. He went down to Camden Training Center for a month to just put his head down and be a horse. I was absolutely thrilled with how he came back in and it’s been nonstop since then. He hasn’t missed a beat.”
In Sunday’s off-track event, Westerdale drew the rail post under Kendrick Carmouche, a concern for Morley as he had been trying to get the horse to more amicably sit behind horses in his morning training. There also was the issue of whether or not he was cranked enough in his first sophomore outing. Thanks in tandem to the horse’s talent and an equipment change, none of it would matter.
“I felt maybe going into Sunday that we were one breeze from being really tight and fit, but also felt it was time to get his 3-year-old year started with the major preps coming up,” Morley said. “We added blinkers which has helped him relax enormously in the morning, then we went with them in the afternoon and Kendrick said he was a different horse.” Not hard sent from the fence, Westerdale nevertheless made the front and clicked off sharp fractions before getting away in hand on the turn and quickly concluding proceedings by widening to a double-digit lead soon after straightening for home.
“We went over to Aqueduct hoping and expecting to see a nice run from him, but he did slightly surprise me,” Morley said of the romp. “I left it up to Kendrick on the basis that he looked like the best horse in the race and in the paddock. Kendrick said afterward, ‘If he’d needed to, he would’ve relaxed.’” Coming out of the race well, Westerdale has given Morley and his partners confidence that the time is fast-approaching to take a big swing.
“All being well, he’ll go to the [GII] Wood [Memorial] next,” Morley revealed. “He has two starts as a 2-year-old and then the maiden win, and we can run him on a track he’s already run on twice. Then we will plot and plan accordingly.” If he runs well in the Wood, Westerdale likely would earn a shot at one of the Triple Crown races and with it, representing on the world stage the tiny place so close to his trainer’s heart. “I waited a while to find a horse that went through the early process of his life without a hitch and could be special,” Morley said. “That’s why he carries the name.”