Ward feeling right at home at Royal Ascot with Lady Aurelia primed for glory

Ward feeling right at home at Royal Ascot with Lady Aurelia primed for glory
By Sportsbeat

19/06/2017 at 20:52Updated

For a man who admits he likes to work in his favourite tatty jeans, an old t-shirt and a baseball cap, Wesley Ward rather suits a top hat and tails, writes James Toney.

Ward talks about Royal Ascot with such love and respect you half expect him to break into a verse from Jerusalem and check his phone for the latest cricket score ... blimey, he even used the word motorway in one recent interview.

It's eight years since he became the first American trainer to score a winner at the royal meeting and since then he has added six more successes from just 34 runners, an incredible and enviable strike rate.

This year he arrives at Ascot with a ten-strong crack squad, including the super impressive filly Lady Aurelia, who scorched to victory 12 months ago and is entered for the King's Stand Stakes on the opening day of the six million pound meeting.

There are richer races back home but Ward readily admits he is now building his season around Royal Ascot, something which continues to puzzle many of his fellow handlers back home.

Some claimed he was crazy when he brought seven horses to the meeting in 2009. His first runner was duly beaten out of sight but then he struck gold when Strike The Tiger won the Windsor Castle Stakes and Jealous Again delivered in the Queen Mary.

But it was the success of Lady Aurelia last year that remains his greatest moment.

Described as a flying machine, she blazed down a softened track in a blistering time, winning a five furlong sprint by over seven lengths, giving Frankie Dettori the easiest of his 56 career Royal Ascot winners.

It was a free-wheeling, front-running display of pure and undiluted brilliance, worthy of every superlative used to describe it and never to be forgotten by those lucky enough to witness it.

"There's nothing like Royal Ascot. I have been fortunate to win a couple of Breeders' Cup races but to win here stands above everything," said Ward.

"Ascot is my favourite racecourse in the world. It is a beautiful place and a beautiful setting and having runners here is what I live for.

"It's easy to forget what a gamble coming here for the first time was. It cost me a big six figure sum and if we hadn't had that success, it would probably have been an experiment I never repeated.

"I shudder to think what it would be like not to be here now, it's the centre of the racing world for this week. On my first trip I was overwhelmed by it, the scale, the pageantry - you can't see the Queen without getting star struck can you?

"After one win you are just yearning for more, thinking of the next one."

Ward only needs one more winner to move level with the likes of blue-bloodied racing aristocrat William Haggas, the son-in-law of the multiple champion jockey Lester Piggott, who counts the Queen among his clients. Andre Fabre, a fabled 24-time champion trainer in France, is also within his sights.

Fellow US trainers Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher, Graham Motion and Mark Casse - whose impressive filly Tepin claimed last year's Queen Anne Stakes - all will have runners this week, following the trail blazed by Ward.

"I think the guys have realised what an opportunity this is for them plus June's a good slot in the diary for us," adds Ward. "You can go over and come back and continue your summer campaign and you don't miss much.

"NBC are broadcasting the races live and when others see that, they'll want to be a part of it. I can see all the best US turf horses starting to come here from now on."

Ward, whose reputation for training speedy juveniles could be further underlined by Happy Like A Fool in Wednesday's Queen Mary Stakes, is bullish about all his travelling party but there's no doubting that Lady Aurelia is his stable favourite.

Ryan Moore had the opportunity to ride her on the track last week in the absence of the temporarily injured Dettori, who will be back on board for Tuesday's showpiece.

"I think she is going to run her 'A' race, I'm very confident," added Ward.

"She was really explosive on her comeback at Keeneland and since then her work has got better and better and better. I didn't think it would be possible to be as excited about watching her run as I am.

"There are always questions as you go from two to three years old. She answered those questions when she won at Keeneland. Her speed figures and numbers are right where they need to be."

French sprinter Signs Of Blessings and Sir Mark Prescott's Marsha looks like to provide the main challenge to Ward's star filly.

"In the old days it was easier, you didn't have all these horrid people coming from aboard," said Sir Mark.

It should be stressed he was joking but should Ward deliver again, the joke might start to wear thin.

Sportsbeat 2017