Wesley Ward became the first US-based trainer to saddle a winner at Royal Ascot meeting when he scored a double in 2009.
He has gone on to win a further seven races in the last six years, including victories last year in the King’s Stand Stakes with Lady Aurelia and the Sandringham Stakes with 20-1 shot Con Te Partiro.
Ward, 50, a former champion apprentice rider in the US, returns to Royal Ascot in 2018 with 10 scheduled runners in eight races.
Here, he talks exclusively to attheraces.com about his Royal Ascot runners.
(King’s Stand Stakes, 3.40 Tuesday)
A two-time winner at the meeting having scorched to a seven-length victory in the Queen Mary Stakes as a juvenile before returning to land the King's Stand Stakes last year, she is back again seeking a repeat victory in the five-furlong Group 1.
Last year, she won her prep, the Giant’s Causeway at Keeneland by three lengths. This year, she lost that same race by a length and a half.
Ward wasn’t disappointed with that effort, however, and has seen the progression he had hoped from Lady Aurelia since then.
“I was really happy with the race, she came out of the race in beautiful shape, got a lot out of it,” Ward said. “She sucked down and she bulked back up like a weightlifter. She’s leaned right back down where she’s ready to run as good as she’s ever run.”
John Velazquez, aboard for last year’s win in the King’s Stand, has the call.
Race replay: Lady Aurelia finishes second in her Ascot prep; the Giant's Causeway at Keeneland.
(Queen Mary Stakes, 2.30 Wednesday)
Ward has won 19 two-year-old races in the United States (up to 12 June) perhaps none more impressively than Chelsea Cloisters’s eight-length debut win at Keeneland on April 19.
“She’s probably at the top of all my two-year-olds,” Ward said. “Everybody we match her with in the mornings she’s best.”
She has been working on the turf since then and showed the ability to handle soft turf in a couple of her workouts.
“That’s a factor we won’t have to worry about,” Ward said before adding that Frankie Dettori will ride.
Race replay: Chelsea Cloisters wins by eight lengths on debut at Keeneland in April.
(Royal Hunt Cup, 5.00 Wednesday)
Though it took him a while to break his maiden, this gelding by Quality Road did reel off four straight wins before getting beat by the highly-regarded Offering Plan in an allowance at Keeneland.
Most recently, he finished fourth in a Grade 3 race run over Arlington Park’s synthetic surface.
“He didn’t like the Polytrack,” Ward said before adding that Master Merion was beaten in a workout by Bound for Nowhere on June 2.
“I'm going to look for a little bit of magic like I had with Con Te Partiro,” Ward said, referring to the horse who won last year’s Sandringham Handicap at 20-1. Interestingly, either Ryan Moore or Jamie Spencer is expected to have the ride.
Race replay: Master Merion wins on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Del Mar last November.
(Jersey Stakes, 5.35 Wednesday)
Comes off career-best performance winning the Animal Kingdom Stakes by 11 and three quarter lengths at Turfway Park on March 31.
“He ran a big number so with sprinters I like to give them a lot of time between races and I just thought that was a perfect race even though it was March 31,” Ward said. “I wanted to give him a little time to get over that race.”
Ward said a lot Hemp Hemp Hurray’s works have been done in company with Lady Aurelia.
“He’s in a tough race, but I think he’s going to run very well and Joel Rosario rides,” Ward said.
(Norfolk Stakes, 2.30 Thursday)
This filly registered a useful debut win against fillies at Keeneland and will take on the boys in the Norfolk Stakes.
“She’s had some really nice breezes on the grass and the [offspring of] Shanghai Bobby that I’ve trained have liked the grass,” Ward said, though he warned that firm turf is a must.
"When we breezed her on the soft turf she worked good, but not great,” Ward said. “I’ll groan if it comes up soft. If it comes up hard and firm and fast she’s going to run a big race.”
Joel Rosario rides.
Race replay: Norfolk Stakes-bound Shang Shang Shang makes all to beat stablemate Moonlight Romance on her debut.
(Albany Stakes, 2.30 Friday)
One of the first two-year-olds for Ward to get started, this daughter of Quality Road was gunned to a five-length lead out of the gate and held on to win by a nose over four and a half furlongs at Keeneland on April 8.
“It wasn’t a good ride and that’s my rider,” Ward said of Julio Garcia, who rides many of his 2-year-olds. “She would have won easier had she been ridden a little bit differently rather than go out there 100 miles per hour because she’s not that type of horse - she’s more a bigger, longer, rangier type. Julio, by his own admission, said he almost messed it up.”
Joel Rosario will be in the saddle at Ascot and Ward added he has trained Stillwater Cove behind horses since then and “she finishes strong.”
Race replay: Stillwater Cove hangs on for victory on her debut at Keeneland in April.
(Windsor Castle Stakes, 3.40 Saturday)
This daughter of Elusive Quality won on her debut over five furlongs on turf by a length. In order to avoid taking on Chelsea Cloisters in Queen Mary she will line up against colts in the Windsor Castle.
“She Worked pretty good at Keeneland but when I match her with Chelsea Cloisters she’s not quite as good as her.” Ward said. “Against the colts she gets a little bit of a weight concession.”
Frankie Dettori will ride.
Race replay: Our Passion shows resolution to hold off her rivals at Belmont Park.
(Windsor Castle Stakes, 3.40 Saturday)
Ward said owner Ken Ramsey has “an insatiable desire” to win a race at Royal Ascot and this race was chosen over the Albany.
Moonlight Romance finished second to Shang Shang Shang on dirt on April 26 and came back on May 24 to win a five-furlong turf maiden race at Belmont by five and a half lengths.
“When I breezed her on the grass at Keeneland prior to this win she was better than Shang Shang Shang on the soft turf,” Ward said. “That’s when I knew she was going to be a tiger to beat. I’ve seen 100 yearlings of Mr Ramsey’s over the last two years and this was my pick.” Joel Rosario rides.
Race replay: Moonlight Romance looks at home on the turf as she makes all to win easily at Belmont Park.
(Diamond Jubilee Stakes, 4.20 Saturday)
Comes into this race off a monster four-length victory in the Grade 2 Shakertown at Keeneland on April 7. Disco Partner, who finished third in the Shakertown, came back to win the Grade 2 Jaipur Invitational on June 9 in New York.
“I’m real excited about this guy,” Ward said. “His works since have been as impressive as that race. He’s going to run a tiger of a race.”
Bound for Nowhere has won four of six starts. His two losses have been in European Group 1 races.
He finished fourth in the Group 1 Commonwealth last year at Royal Ascot and Ward said that in the Prix Maurice de Gheest last August in Deauville, Bound for Nowhere coughed the morning of the race and afterward scoped with blood and mucus in his throat.
“We were running against a lot of seasoned three-year-olds where I only had those two starts and nothing on a straight track,” Ward said. “But the experience that he learned in those two starts on a straight course is what’s going to help me come back over there and run really big. This guy’s breathing fire right now.”
Joel Rosario rides.
Race replay: Bound For Nowhere scores a four-length win in the Grade 2 Shakertown at Keeneland.
(Wokingham Stakes, 5.00 Saturday)
This will be his third start at Royal Ascot having won the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee in 2015 and finishing sixth in that same race in 2016.
Now aged eight, Undrafted finished third in the Elusive Quality Stakes at Belmont Park on April 28, his first start in five months.
“It was a very slow pace and he was one of the only ones closing in the race,” Ward said. "I always give him the winter off; he gets turned out in a 20-acre field. He came into that race looking like a wooly mammoth but now he’s slicked down and looks like a leopard. He’s really come into his own as far as appearance-wise. His breezes have been fantastic. He’s training like a star.”
Frankie Dettori has been booked to ride.
Race replay: Undrafted preps for the Wokingham with a fast-finishing third place in Belmont’s Elusive Quality Stakes.