With his sharp eye on Ascot, Wesley Ward prepares to unleash the first of his powerful two-year-old armory this week in Hallandale, Florida. Inspired by recent news that the royal meeting might be a go behind closed doors in its traditional mid-June slot, Ward says he is ready to roll in the first American juvenile contests of the year at Gulfstream Park.
“Fortunately we have our first two-year-old races on Thursday and Friday and we’re running two pretty precocious horses who are on the fast train,” Ward told Horse Racing Planet speaking by phone from Florida.
On Thursday, Lime (Iqbaal), a filly bred by Ward in Florida and owned by Fitri Hay, will be Ward’s first juvenile runner of the year at Gulfstream Park in a sprint over 4½ furlongs. Golden Pal, an Uncle Mo colt, runs on the Friday card.. Ridden by Tyler Gaffalione both will run Lasix-free as will all 2-year-olds this juvenile season.
“They were at the forefront of the ones I was thinking of running early on so I moved them down when things broke loose over here just in case they were still running at Gulfstream Park.
“Pending the outcome of the races, we’re already looking to get them over to England sooner rather than later if we can. I’ve already talked to my assistant trainer Frankie Dettori and he’s ready to take them on. You’d certainly want to get over there and get them conditioned – the earlier the better. We’ll be looking into it to see what we can do.”
“Royal Ascot has been the highlight of my career and it’ll be fantastic if they can go ahead,” said Ward, who has saddled ten Ascot winners. “At least they’re trying so we’re planning and trying. A lot of owners have sent yearlings that are now two-year-olds to go over there and compete so I’m still going through daily training the same way.”
The cancellation of the prestigious April meet at Ward’s principal home base of Keeneland has entailed forays elsewhere – notably with Kimari (Munnings), who made a brilliant seasonal debut on dirt at Oaklawn Park in the Purple Martin Stakes. Kimari was beat by just a head by Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary Stakes at last year’s Royal meeting. Ward said the tentative plan for Kimari is to return to England for the G1 Commonwealth Cup in June, with the year-end objective being the $2 million G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Keeneland.
“Keeneland is really the start of my year,” explained Ward. “As well as the two-year-olds I’ve brought to England over the years, that’s where the three-year-olds and four-year-olds usually have their first starts of the year.
“We’re at a standstill there, but then so is the rest of the world. We were lucky we were able to switch over with Kimari, as she was going to run opening day. She’s come back from Oaklawn in good order and she’s back at Keeneland now. Hopefully they do race at Ascot because that will be her next race.”
The jockey turned conditioner is also thinking about the G1 King’s Stand Stakes for Breeders’ Cup winner Four Wheel Drive. “He’s a lot better on grass than dirt so I want to stick to that with him,” said Ward. Having followed up an impressive debut victory at Colonial Downs in the Rosie’s Stakes (Black Type) with a win at Belmont in the G3 Futurity Stakes, the son of American Pharoah was the marginal favorite for the Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita winning comfortably.
Yet to make a start this year, the 3-year-old colt worked at Keeneland last Thursday breezing four furlongs from the gate in 49.20 on dirt. Ward had been working the sprinter at Turfway Park on the all weather track through February and March.
“I have to have a discussion with the owners but the Breeders’ Cup is at home at Keeneland this year so we’ll be working back from that – but the owners had success at Ascot with Shang Shang Shang and it could certainly fit into that schedule. He’s a very talented horse so we’ll make plans accordingly.”
Either way, Ward is keeping his fingers firmly crossed that Royal Ascot goes ahead – even if it was postponed until later in the year. “It is the centrepiece of the year for me, just like everyone in Europe, and the rest of the world, for racing anyway,” the trainer said.
“I wouldn’t mind if it was two weeks later or two months later; it wouldn’t be a problem for me. We’d just like the tradition to carry on.”
Past The Wire Staff
Photo: Ward savors Royal Ascot glory with Lady Aurelia. Credit: Racingfotos.com