Wesley Ward tells Andy Stephens about his team for Royal Ascot next week as he seeks to add to his seven winners at the meeting and talks about the horse who first got him thinking about sending runners to the meeting.
Wesley Ward was bubbling with excitement after working nine of his Royal Ascot raiders at the sun-kissed Berkshire venue on Wednesday morning.
The pioneering trainer’s star-studded squad from America looked in magnificent condition and worked in four-and-a-half furlong spins under Ryan Moore, Jamie Spencer and Pat Cosgrave.
Moore deputised for Frankie Dettori, who missed the exercise after hurting his shoulder in a paddock fall at Yarmouth on Tuesday. Ward expects Dettori to be fit for next week and said he would ride the majority of his runners.
They were swinging breezes, much more than just gentle canters, and several took a while to pull up - especially Coventry Stakes candidate Arawak, who Ward revealed had never worked better.
The nine are all intended runners at next week’s showpiece meeting and will be joined by Fairyland, who is en route to Britain after a pleasing spin at Keeneland on Monday.
Ward became the first American-based trainer to saddle a Royal Ascot winner in 2009 when Strike The Tiger won the Windsor Castle Stakes at 33-1 and has since added six more - all but one of them in the races for two-year-olds.
He usually nominates his principal hope but this year, with his challengers likely to be in their element on the expected fast ground, he believes none of his runners should be discounted.
The bookmakers concur, with five of his horses favourite, or disputing favouritism, for their respective races. Coral make him 8-1 to have three winners or more and the 25-1 that Paddy Power offer on him being leading trainer, in a market that excludes Aidan O’Brien, could well be worth a second look.
“You would not come all the way over here if you didn’t think you could win,” Ward said. “You have to be apprehensive and no matter what you are gonna get beat in some . . . but you hope not.
“This is the best team we’ve brought here and they all worked great today. Everything went very well, I'm really excited. Ascot were very helpful. We worked nine horses and everything worked out beautiful."
Lady Aurelia put up one of the most sensational performance seen in a juvenile race at Royal Ascot 12 months ago when surging to a seven-length victory in the Queen Mary Stakes.
The clock watchers were also left with their jaws on the floor and she might have recorded an even quicker time on the softened surface, too, had Dettori not spent the final 50 yards impersonating Superman with his fist punched forward in celebration.
Lady Aurelia has subsequently not replicated that brilliance, albeit winning in Group One company, and the fear is that it might have been a magical one-off.
Ward is not among her doubters and cannot wait to see her strut her stuff against older opposition in the King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday.
He was delighted by her work with Bound For Nowhere (Comonwealth Cup) and Con Te Partiro (Sandringham Handicap), even if a miscommunication meant the trio did not move as one as had been intended.
“This is her place, this is where she shines,” he said of the daughter of Scat Daddy. “She walked into the paddock here like she’s been here training every day of her life.
“Once she warmed up, Ryan said you could have ridden her with two fingers. He kicked off with her ears pricked and when he said ‘go’ she was gone. She finished up strong and is as fit as any racehorse can be.”
That remark seems applicable to all of the 49-year-old’s runners. None of them would have blown out a candle as they returned from their gallops apart, perhaps, from Elizabeth Darcy who struggled to keep up with fellow Windsor Castle entry Nootka Sound.
Ward identifies his potential Royal Ascot two-year-olds early in the year and works backwards from there. He likes to run them at Keeneland in early April and then let them flourish at home.
All are equipped with blinkers to keep their curious young minds on the job and race tactics are straightforward. Hit the gate running, take rivals out of their comfort zones and try to preserve a little something for the closing stages.
“I try to run them early, so there is a lot of space,” Ward said. “Most of the training is done from two months ago but at the end of day it’s all about the horse. They key is get these type of horses."
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“Pretty much all my mine kick on out there and, if they are good enough, they will last. [This year] they will all be at the forefront of their races.”
Last year, the Mark Casse-trained Tepin came over from America to win the Queen Anne Stakes and Ward will again be joined by other counterparts from the United States next week.
He says the seed for his annual visits was planted by the exploits of One Hot Wish after she set a new world record of 48.87 seconds for 4.5 furlongs on her debut for him at Keeneland a decade ago.
“One Hot Wish blitzed them and she was the one that got me thinking about Royal Ascot and what might be possible,” he said. “I didn’t know but a couple of years later I ended up trying.
“I got lucky. Had it been raining, and my horses had run poorly, I probably would have thought it’s way too tough for Americans to win here and might never have come back.
“But now it’s opened the doors for all the other American trainers. They know it can happen. A lot centres around the weather but Tepin proved otherwise - her true greatness came out that day.
“I think those who try it will come back again and again, just like me. I just hope they don’t end up beating me”.
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