September 23, 2023

Lady Aurelia leads Ward’s 10-strong Royal Ascot squad

All eyes are on Lady Aurelia as she takes on older males in the King's Stand on Tuesday, Royal Ascot's opening day (Photo courtesy Ascot via Twitter)

Seven-time Royal Ascot winner Wesley Ward is back in search of more glory at next week’s prestigious meeting, with a talented team of 10 contenders led by Lady Aurelia.

Imperious in her seven-length romp in the Queen Mary (G2) here last June, Lady Aurelia returns to the same five-furlong strip to take on older males in Tuesday’s King’s Stand (G1). The Scat Daddy filly rates as the 3-1 favorite in the early market, and Ward tabs her as the pick of his chances.

“Lady Aurelia is a true champion,” the trainer said. “She is a sweetheart year-round; when she gets to the track, she puts it all in.

“Last year, she was working better than any two-year-old I had previously brought over, so I knew I had something special. I expected she would win, but not the dominating performance which was special.”

This past Wednesday, Lady Aurelia and eight of her stablemates took a test spin over the Ascot course (video courtesy of @Ascot via Twitter).

While Frankie Dettori will be aboard for the King’s Stand, Ryan Moore was in the saddle for the work.

Speaking at a Thursday press gathering, Ward admitted that he had a slight concern that was subsequently alleviated.

“I was a little worried that she did a little too much yesterday,” Ward said. “She had a bleed last fall (when third in the Cheveley Park [G1] at Newmarket, her only loss). This year she has been perfect but I have not asked her to do as much as she did yesterday.

“So I was really, really relieved when the vet who scoped her said she was clean. I was really nervous until then but now I am very confident. She breezed superb and like she trained there every day with her head down. I think she is going to run her ‘A’ race.

“We were making excuses for her when she won a Group 1 over six furlongs in France last year (the Prix Morny) and I just think that five-eighths is her game and what she is most effective at. That is the reason why we have decided to run her in the King’s Stand Stakes this year.”

Lady Aurelia’s workmate at their Keeneland base, Bound for Nowhere, is no mere tag-along at Royal Ascot. Two-for-two so far, the son of The Factor is contesting Friday’s Commonwealth Cup (G1).

Lady Aurelia strides ahead of Bound for Nowhere in their breeze over the course (Photo courtesy of Ascot via Facebook)

“I matched him with Lady Aurelia prior to her race this year (in the April 15 Giant’s Causeway) and he was a bit unseasoned, having had just one run at a small track (Turfway Park). She was much better in every way.

“He ran shortly after she did and, after the experience of that race (winning a Keeneland turf allowance), he started to prove too to me that he is a very valid foe in every work. In one of the works, he was better. Having seen the talent he has, I think he has a big chance. All Royal Ascot races are tough – you cherish wins for a lifetime.”

Three-year-old filly Con Te Partiro, who accompanied Lady Aurelia and Bound for Nowhere in their hit-out, is entered in Wednesday’s listed Sandringham Handicap. Ward’s seven remaining hopefuls are all juveniles.

Happy Like a Fool (nearer camera), who will try to give Ward his third straight win in the Queen Mary on Wednesday, stretched her legs in company with Princess Peggy (far side), ticketed for Friday’s Albany (G3).

“Happy Like a Fool” is great – doing super,” the horseman said. “She had a big work yesterday with Jamie Spencer and came out of that great. It is exciting.”

Princess Peggy “stepped up her game in yesterday’s work,” Ward added. “I spoke to her owners (Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables) and said she was a little bit of an outsider coming into Royal Ascot. She won her only start convincingly and so we decided to come over. But she really stepped up in the work and Ryan Moore said she was absolutely worthy of running.”

If Ward has his way, Fairyland would also line up in the Albany, but her Coolmore connections are still evaluating their chessboard.

“The other filly Fairyland will hopefully be in the Albany Stakes rather than the Queen May, but that is up to Coolmore,” Ward noted.

McErin (nearer camera), headed to Thursday’s Norfolk (G2), strode out with Arawak, who will be the first of Ward’s runners when tackling Tuesday’s Coventry (G2).

“I knew from the start that he would be a Norfolk contender,” Ward said of McErin. “He has shown a lot of speed in everything he has done at home. He is a compact sprinter type of horse. He has an all-dirt pedigree but he has been much better on the grass. I think he has a really big chance.”

Ward used the same phrase about Arawak in the Coventry.

“I think he is going to have a big chance,” he commented. “At home, he has a longer stride and eventually he is going to be a miler. Yesterday’s work was much better than we saw at Keeneland. He took McErin right down to the wire yesterday and I was really happy to see that.”

Elizabeth Darcy and Nootka Sound breezed together for Tuesday’s Windsor Castle S.

“Nootka Sound will go to the lead and Elizabeth Darcy will come from behind, just like in the work yesterday when Elizabeth Darcy caught Nootka Sound right on the wire,” Ward said.

Observers, including rival connections, certainly take note of the sheer physicality of the Ward juveniles.

David Redvers, racing manager for Sheikh Fahad’s Qatar Racing, offers an example.

“With the American-trained two-year-olds, it occasionally looks like they have brought a four-year-old over! It is fantastic for world racing and sharpens everyone’s resolve to be as competitive as possible. It adds a wonderful flavor to Royal Ascot and they are very welcome — it would just be nice to beat them sometime,” Redvers said.

“I have never seen a more impressive two-year-old in my life than Lady Aurelia last year.”

Ward is bullish about his prospects for 2017.

“I would not bring any of my horses over unless they had good chances in each individual race. Yesterday were their last works before Royal Ascot and the track was opulent – perfect for what we wanted to do – and I cannot thank everyone at Ascot enough for helping me.

“From what I have seen this morning and yesterday after going over the horses with the vet, I am very, very happy. Royal Ascot is what I live for.”