Ward Relishing Royal Ascot Return

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Ruthin, who runs in the Windsor Castle Stakes, being ponied by the 2009 winner of the same race, Strike The Tiger, with Ollie Sangster | Emma Berry

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NEWMARKET, UK–Since 2009, Wesley Ward has made Royal Ascot an annual pilgrimage, both for his horses and his family. The enduring and endearing repetition of that first visit is the presence of the now 14-year-old Strike The Tiger (Tiger Ridge), Ward's first of 11 Royal Ascot winners, who is now a much valued stable pony and has accompanied his team to Newmarket.

The trainer was in his customary relaxed mood on Wednesday morning at Newmarket's National Stud, where his team has been based on his visits to England over the last few years. Among the nine horses heading to the Berkshire track next week is another returning star, Campanelle (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}), the winner of last year's G2 Queen Mary S. at Ascot who went on to win the G1 Darley Prix Morny in Deauville for Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables. 

An intended runner in Friday's G1 Commonwealth Cup, in which she will be reunited with Frankie Dettori, Campanelle is one of two older horses in the raiding party along with Richard Ravin's Maven (American Pharoah). The lightly-raced 4-year-old will tackle the G1 King's Stand S. on the opening day of the meeting. 

“When Maven ran in an allowance race at Keeneland in April, we felt he was a bit short fitness-wise,” Ward said on Wednesday morning. “On the day he bounced out in front and when they came to him, I thought he was going to surrender, but he just took off again. I was delighted and then once I saw the numbers, it inspired me to put him on the team for Royal Ascot. He will have to move forward from that again to be in the mix for the King's Stand Stakes, but I think he is entitled to do so.”

Maven is one of two American raiders on course for the King's Stand. The 8-year-old G1 Al Quoz Sprint winner Extravagant Kid (Kiss The Kid), who will be ridden by Ryan Moore, arrived in Newmarket on Tuesday evening and is stabled across town at Abington Place. His trainer Brendan Walsh is very familiar with British racing's headquarters, having worked in Newmarket for several years for Mark Wallace.

The remaining Ward septet are all juveniles and it is in this sphere which the trainer notoriously excels. He appears to have a real soft spot for the statuesque Kaufymaker (Jimmy Creed), a homebred for Gregory Kaufman who was raised on Ward's own farm in Florida. Unusually, the chestnut filly will be taking on the colts in the G2 Coventry S. on Tuesday.  

Ward said, “She won on the dirt at Keeneland and then when we worked her on the grass, she took to it like a duck to water. Of all the workers I have had on the grass coming into the meeting, she has risen to the top. That is why I am giving her the biggest assignment. The Coventry Stakes is a race I have been dying to have a real big chance in and I think she is going to give me it. She is the best I have and that is why I am putting her in here.”

He continued, “She has a big, long stride and I think it is a bit of an advantage at this time of the year to have a filly against the colts. If you look at all the times of the races over the years, especially in the States, the fillies are always faster. The same applies to the breeze-ups for the most part. It is like boys and girls in school—for whatever reason girls mature that little bit faster.”

Having tasted significant success last year, Stonestreet Stables has stuck to the formula of buying European-bred yearlings to aim at the meeting and three youngsters will bear Banke's colours at Ascot on Wednesday. Twilight Gleaming (Ire) will bid to give her first-season sire National Defense (GB) an important first Royal Ascot winner in the G2 Queen Mary S., while the filly Ruthin (GB) (Ribchester {Ire}) will take on Napa Spirit (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire})–the top-priced colt at last year's Goffs Orby Sale at £420,000–in the listed Windsor Castle S. John Velazquez is set to ride Ruthin and Dettori is booked for Napa Spirit.

“In regard to Twilight Gleaming and Ruthin, sometimes you have to readjust because of what you see from them in their workouts once they're over here.” Ward noted. “With both horses being owned by Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables, you have to go with what you see. To me, Twilight Gleaming might be a shade better, which is why she is going for the Queen Mary Stakes, and Ruthin will slot in for the Windsor Castle Stakes alongside Napa Spirit. We are going to use a figure-8 bridle and tongue tie on Ruthin, to help her get some more air, and I think that could make a big difference to her.”

Ruthin was exercised riderless on Wednesday morning alongside Strike The Tiger and Ollie Sangster, who gave the filly an easy jog on the Newmarket turf. Ward's preparation for her change of tack next week included having her wear the tongue tie and grakle noseband during the exercise. 

Ruthin had Artos (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) six lengths behind her when the pair met on debut at Keeneland on April 22. The latter, who will be a first Royal Ascot runner for Rusty Arnold, arrived in Newmarket on Tuesday with Extravagant Kid and she will now face Twilight Gleaming in the Queen Mary.

Ward will also be double-handed in Thursday's G2 Norfolk S., in which Lucci (Not This Time) will take on Nakatomi (Firing Line). Oisin Murphy will ride the latter, with Velazquez renewing his acquaintance with first-time-out Belmont maiden winner Lucci.

The trainer said, “At home, we have been working Lucci and Nakatomi together. Nakatomi was coming out on top, but then they had a workout in Newmarket on the Limekilns and Lucci turned the tables. He just bounced straight through to the front and would not give up the lead.”

Joining Campanelle on the lorry from Newmarket to Ascot on Friday will be the G3 Albany S. contender Golden Bell (Macho Uno), who races for a partnership which includes Hat Creek Racing, former owners of the 2017 listed Sandringham H. winner Con Te Partiro (Scat Daddy), and Cheyenne Stable. Ward would be happy to see some rain fall at the track ahead of the penultimate day of the meeting.

“Golden Bell is actually one I wouldn't mind a bit of dig in the ground for, which is not something you would usually hear me say,” he commented. “The night before she worked at Keeneland, we had quite heavy rain, and she just flew through the ground. With her and Campanelle, I might have to do a little rain dance the night before.”

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