Horse racing: Wesley Ward is a man on a mission at Royal Ascot
It costs around US$30,000 (Dh110,200) to send a horse on the round trip from the United States to England for Royal Ascot.
That sum puts into perspective quite how much a risk it was in 2009 when Wesley Ward came to Royal Ascot with a team of seven horses.
Wind forward eight years and the 49-year-old former rider is back for the five-day meeting with a squad of 10, the biggest he has brought over for the five-day international fixture that starts on Tuesday.
Back in 2009, the American’s first runner, Cannonball, was beaten out of sight, but that was quickly forgotten by what happened next.
Strike The Tiger caused an upset in the Windsor Castle Stakes. It was the first of Ward’s seven victories at the royal meeting from just 34 horses.
“When I came for the first time and saw the pageantry I was a little overwhelmed and was star struck,” Ward said. “Cannonball split the field at best, and I thought I had jumped in at the deep end of the pool and was a little over my head.
“I was lucky enough to win the Windsor Castle that day and I felt vindicated. I then won the Queen Mary with Jealous Again.
“You then have the feeling that you want to come back again.
“Ascot is my favourite racecourse in the world. It is a beautiful place and a beautiful setting. It is what I live for.
“Looking back, had I not had any success in 2009 I probably wouldn’t have come again. It is a great expense to come.”
Ward’s success at Royal Ascot cannot be underestimated.
European trainers of the calibre of Andre Fabre, Jim Bolger and William Haggas have saddled only one more winner than he has.
His challenge is the cornerstone of the largest US riding party to grace the royal meeting.
It was the Australian sprinter Choisir who in 2003 became the first horse trained outside Europe to win at Royal Ascot, but it was Ward who struck first for the United States.
From there Mark Casse brought over Tepin, who 12 months ago prevailed in the Queen Anne Stakes.
Next week US broadcast network NBC will show each day of the meeting in what could be only the beginning of US involvement.
“My success opened the door,” Ward said. “I am unique because I win early two-year-old races, so I think people were waiting for somebody else to come and do it.
“Mark Case came and won with Tepin, and I think that is inviting more Americans to come. I hope that one day all of America’s best grass horses come and run here on turf.”
It has taken Ward a while to find his niche. He was born into the racing industry as the son of trainer Dennis Ward and was good enough in the saddle to become an Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey in 1984.
After retiring from riding in 1989 he started training two-year-olds almost from the start, but it was not until he successfully travelled to England that he really hit his straps and owners such as Coolmore started to use him.
Part of his success is owed to Frankie Dettori, the 46-year-old former Godolphin jockey, who not only rides the majority of Ward’s leading runners but who is also a good friend.
Their good relationship was clear to see when they teamed up with Undrafted to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes two seasons ago.
“He is the greatest,” Ward said. “I invited him over to Saratoga a few years ago and he had a great time. We had a couple of winners and we spent a lot of quality time together. I have complete confidence in him.”
Talk to Ward about his horses for next week and it is clear which ones he likes best.
Bound For Nowhere is a serious threat to Godolphin’s Blue Point and Harry Angel in the Commonwealth Cup on Friday, but the favourite for that event is Coolmore’s Caravaggio.
Happy Like A Fool, a chestnut filly, runs in Wednesday’s Queen Mary Stakes and is considered every bit as good as his previous winners of the 1,000-metre sprint in Jealous Again and Acapulco. Ward stops short of equating her to Lady Aurelia, who dominated the event 12 months ago and this year runs in the King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday, one of the most competitive Group 1s of the week.
Ward worked Lady Aurelia at Ascot this past Wednesday, and after checking her over thoroughly he could not be more bullish.
“I was a little worried that she did a little too much,” he said. “She had a bleed last fall. This year she has been perfect, but I have not asked her to do as much as she did the other day.
“So I was 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.”
Updated: June 17, 2017 04:00 AM