Many familiar features of Royal Ascot will be missing if the meeting goes ahead behind closed doors next month, but the American trainer Wesley Ward says that while he will not be making the trip to Berkshire this year, he still hopes that several of his horses will. “Myself and my staff, as long as conditions are as they are, we’re not going to come,” Ward said on Wednesday. “We won’t send people, just the horses. There’s no other meeting like Ascot, so I’m glad if I can still be a part of it.”
Ward has saddled 10 winners at Royal Ascot in all, registering his first success in 2009 with Strike The Tiger, a 33-1 chance, in the Windsor Castle Stakes. He drew a blank at the five-day meeting in 2019 for the first time since 2012, but Kimari, a two-year-old filly, ran an excellent race to finish second behind Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary Stakes and she is one of two older horses that Ward hopes to send over from his Kentucky base next month.
“I had some [British] staff that worked for me over the winter here and went home a few months ago,” Ward says. “They’ll be there to accept the horses, so that’s worked perfect. Kimari came back from that effort last year and won at Saratoga [in August], then she won a stakes at Keeneland and in the Breeders’ Cup [at Santa Anita] she was a troubled fourth.
“She won her first prep race back [at Oaklawn in early April] and she’s shown she’s very versatile. At Ascot last year it was raining heavily and she put up a big performance, but she enjoyed firm ground as well at Saratoga. She’s sound and ready to go and she’ll be pointed towards the [Group One] Commonwealth Cup.”
Bound For Nowhere, already a veteran of the transatlantic crossing having lined up at Ascot in both 2018 and 2019, is also being aimed at a return.
“He pulled a muscle up high last year [when down the field in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes] and it took quite a bit of time to get him back,” Ward says. “Then he had a big win in his final race of the year at Belmont, he ran a big race at Santa Anita in his Ascot prep when he was beaten on the line and he’s had some eye-opening breezes. So look out for him as well.”
Seven of Ward’s Ascot winners have been two-year-olds, most of them showing the irresistible early pace that has become something of a trademark for his juvenile runners at the meeting. Keeneland’s spring meeting, however, was abandoned due to a lockdown in Kentucky to combat coronavirus, and while Ward moved some of his string to Gulfstream Park in Florida, it has not been easy to sort out a pecking order among the two-year-olds.
“I’d ordinarily train on grass but we had to switch to dirt because that’s the only option in south Florida,” he says. “So they haven’t come out running like they have in years past, but I expect this week actually, starting tomorrow [Thursday, when Tequila Queen runs at Churchill Downs] to have some big efforts from my two-year-olds.
“To have valid entries for Royal Ascot, they have to perform accordingly, and you know how two-year-olds are, they have to go into these races and win with authority but also have to come out of the races well, so we’ll have to see on both sides of that. The timeframe we have, it’s getting smaller for Ascot.”