Geoffrey Riddle and Nick Lightfoot spoke to Wesley Ward about last year's stunning Queen Mary winner ahead of her bid to follow-up at Royal Ascot as the 3-1 favourite in Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes.
It is a sign of how highly trainer Wesley Ward rates Lady Aurelia that he believes Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes favourite is one of the two best horses he has ever sat on.
Ward was an Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey during the mid-1980s with nearly 1500 winners before weight scuttled his buoyant career in the saddle.
He has ridden last season’s outrageous Queen Mary winner several times on the gallops, as well as Arawak, the Coventry Stakes challenger, and McErin, a horse he has high hopes for in Thursday’s Norfolk Stakes.
In 1984 when he was champion rider at Belmont Park he had the good fortune of getting the leg-up on a four-time champion turf horse and dual US Horse Of The Year. Even 37 years later he still claims the feeling of riding the two horses was similar.
“As a kid I was 16 years old and I really followed a horse called John Henry,” the American trainer said. “At the time I was leading rider and my agent said to me, ‘is there anything I can do for you?’ and I said, ‘man, if I could ever get on that John Henry.’ He set it up that I got on John Henry one morning.
“That horse and Lady Aurelia have a lot of similarities. He was a little guy, but you could feel the strength in him when he galloped off. It is like her. It is like weightlifters who are the same size and one can lift twice as much as the other that is what she would be. She is just so strong.”
The impression in some quarters with Lady Aurelia, however, is that she is damaged goods.
Lady Aurelia did not shine with her Queen Mary luminosity when she won in France over six furlongs a month later. Having been trained largely by Tuesday’s rider Frankie Dettori in Ward’s absence, she bled when finishing a lacklustre third in the Cheveley Park Stakes after a lights out gallop along the Rowley Mile beforehand.
She has since resurfaced in the Giant’s Causeway Stakes at Keeneland over an extended five furlongs, and worked better than ever on Wednesday at Ascot and has shown no ill-effects. In short, according to Ward, she is ready.
“After the Cheveley Park we were disappointed and we were happy to have an excuse,” he said.
In the Giant's Causeway Stakes Lady Aurelia broke a touch slowly, lost her right hind shoe and but still beat her older rivals. (Keeneland)
“We let her lungs heal. Coming back there are always questions, as there are from two to three years old. She answered those questions at Keeneland. The speed figures, the numbers that she ran and I think she is up to the task.”
Looking strictly at the form her price is cramped at 3-1, even though fillies have won five of the last 23 runnings and she is the top-rated runner according to Timeform.
The Queen Mary was a stunning effort in rain-softened ground she would not have liked in a jaw-dropping time but only Roly Poly, who was eighth that day, has subsequently gone on to win at the same Group Two level. A handful more have won at Listed level, and it is her potential, rather than her proven ability that has kept her at the head of the market.
Lady Aurelia is now a different animal to the one that free-wheeled from the front in a style reminiscent of the great Frankel.
Much of the pre-Cheveley Park build-up was focused on trying to get the daughter of Scat Daddy to settle. The training failed, but back in America Ward has got some of the best minds in the business on to the case, with some success.
In the Giant’s Causeway John Velazquez got her to settle well in fifth, before smoothly moving her up two furlongs to go. Further work has been done, too, with the help of multiple Group One-winning rider Julio Garcia. With trailblazers Just Glamorous and Take Cover also in the field there is a good chance Dettori will not have to lead.
“I have an unbelievable guy at home, who was a world-class jockey in his day,” Ward added.
“He has magical hands, and gets Lady Aurelia to melt in them. At the start of the year we took her behind horses and let her finish. We told Johnny [Velzaquez] that in the paddock before the Giant’s Causeway and when he came back in to the winner’s circle he asked whether he did as well as Garcia!
“We were putting Bound For Nowhere in front and she was engulfing him. After his second run he really started to emerge and started to prove a little too much for her.
“If she breaks well, the pace will be slower than in the states so Frankie will have to get her to relax and kick on.
“The Cheveley Park is over six furlongs. She is world-class sprinter. I think she can run five eighths of a mile at a really hot pace and finish. I can’t say that about any of my other horses except her.”
WESLEY WARD'S RECORD AT ROYAL ASCOT:
2009 Cannonball - King's Stand Stakes (sixth)
2009 Strike The Tiger - Windsor Castle Stakes (WON)
2009 Jealous Again - Queen Mary Stakes (WON)
2009 Yogaroo - Norfolk Stakes (ninth)
2009 Aegean - Albany Stakes (ninth)
2009 Honor In Peace - Chesham Stakes (16th)
2009 Cannonball - Diamond Jubilee Stakes (second)
2010 Metropolitan Man - Windsor Castle Stakes (ninth)
2011 Holiday For Kitten - King's Stand Stakes (13th)
2011 Italo - Coventry Stakes (23rd)
2011 Gentlemans Code - Windsor Castle Stakes (fourth)
2011 Gypsy Robin - Queen Mary Stakes (seventh)
2011 Everyday Dave - Norfolk Stakes (11th)
2013 Ogermeister - Windsor Castle Stakes (15th)
2013 Sweet Emma Rose - Queen Mary Stakes (second)
2013 No Nay Never - Norfolk Stakes (WON)
2014 Hootenanny - Windsor Castle Stakes (WON)
2014 Spanish Pipedream - Queen Mary Stakes (fourth)
2014 To Be Determined - Norfolk Stakes (ninth)
2014 Sunset Glow - Albany Stakes (second)
2014 Cordero - Chesham Stakes (sixth)
2014 Crown The Kitten - Chesham Stakes (10th)
2015 Ruby Notion - Windsor Castle Stakes (fifth)
2015 Acapulco - Queen Mary Stakes (WON)
2015 Laxfield Road - Albany Stakes (15th)
2015 Hootenanny - Commonwealth Cup (11th)
2015 Love The Kitten - Chesham Stakes (11th)
2015 Undrafted - Diamond Jubilee Stakes (WON)
2016 Silvertoni - Coventry Stakes (ninth)
2016 Big City Dreamin - Windsor Castle Stakes (16th)
2016 Lady Aurelia - Queen Mary Stakes (WON)
2016 Red Lodge - Norfolk Stakes (ninth)
2016 Create A Dream - Albany Stakes (fourth)
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