USA: The world may have been turned upside down but Wesley Ward still has Royal Ascot uppermost in his mind as he prepares to unleash the first of his powerful two-year-old armoury this week in Florida.
Buoyed by recent news that the royal meeting might go ahead behind closed doors in its traditional mid-June slot, the popular American trainer is ready to roll in the nation’s first juvenile contests of the year at Gulfstream Park.
He also has Frankie Dettori, laughingly described as his “assistant trainer”, on standby in Newmarket to help supervise his training regime in England if Royal Ascot looks like getting the green light.
“Royal Ascot has been the highlight of my career and it’ll be fantastic if they can go ahead,” said Ward, speaking from Florida. “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.
“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,” added Ward, who has saddled ten Royal Ascot winners. “Frankie’s been texting me lately and he’s gonna have a keen eye on it!”
With the US programme severely diminished owing to coronavirus, two-year-old filly Lime, who is owned by Fitri Hay, will be his first juvenile runner of the year at Gulfstream on Thursday over 4½f in a Lasix-free contest. Golden Pal, an Uncle Mo colt, does the honours in a similar race for males on Friday’s card ; Tyler Gaffalione rides both.
“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.”
The cancellation of the prestigious April meet at Ward’s principal home base has entailed forays elsewhere – notably with Commonwealth Cup contender Kimari, who made a brilliant seasonal debut on dirt at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas earlier this month.
“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.”
Ward is thinking about the 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.
“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.”
• More about Ascot at the racecourse website