Royal Ascot - At The Races

International stars

    Ascot attracts the best horses from around the globe and here Kevin Blake takes a closer look at the overseas challengers who are bidding to add success at the world-famous Royal meeting to their CVs.

One of the many aspects that makes Royal Ascot so unique is the variety of international challengers that travel to the meeting in search of a winner. As well as the always-powerful raiding party from Ireland, horses trained in France, America, Australia, Hong Kong, Germany and Spain have won races at the Royal meeting in the recent past.

While the likes of Australia, Hong Kong and Japan are not represented by any entries this year, that is more than made up for by the large amount of entries made for horses trained in America and France.

While anything can happen at Royal Ascot, the international trainer that would appear to have the strongest hand going into the meeting is Wesley Ward. The American-based trainer has been lighting up Royal Ascot with his raiding parties since bursting onto the scene in 2009, courtesy of the electric wins of Jealous Again in the Queen Mary Stakes and Strike The Tiger in the Windsor Castle Stakes.

Ward has sent horses to the meeting almost every year since then and added to his tally with No Nay Never, Hootenanny, Acapulco, Undrafted and Lady Aurelia getting their heads in front for the US handler.

Ward looks to have a particularly strong team for 2017 and it will be headed up by Lady Aurelia in the King’s Stand Stakes. The daughter of Scat Daddy lit up the juvenile division last season, producing one of the most electric performances ever witnessed in a two-year-old race at Royal Ascot when bolting up in the Queen Mary Stakes by seven lengths.

She then went on to win the Prix Morny at Deauville prior to finishing third in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket. Having made a winning return over five-and-a-half furlongs at Keeneland in April, a return to Royal Ascot has very much been her target all season.

The drop back to five furlongs in the King’s Stand Stakes promises to suit her well and the older horses will have plenty on their plate in dealing with her tremendous speed.

A Shin Hikari
The scene of last year's devastating Queen Mary victory by Lady Aurelia

While the Commonwealth Cup was originally considered as a possible target for Lady Aurelia, Ward has a different contender for that race in Bound For Nowhere. The son of The Factor is unbeaten in his two starts to date, winning them by an aggregate of over 10 lengths.

Ward holds the three-year-old in high regard and with him thrown into the mix with the likes of Caravaggio, Harry Angel and Blue Point, the Commonwealth Cup is shaping up to be one of the races of the meeting. 

As we have become accustomed to, there is likely to be a huge amount of focus on the Ward-trained two-year-olds that are so renowned for their physical precocity and professionalism. One of his more eye-catching candidates is Fairyland, a daughter of Scat Daddy that cost $375,000 and is owned by Derrick Smith.

She made a winning debut at Keeneland in April and is being targeted at the Albany Stakes which puts her on a collision course with the highly-regarded Irish-trained filly Alpha Centauri.

Ward will be looking to gain his second win in the Norfolk Stakes with McErin, a son of Trappe Shot that bolted up on his debut at Keeneland prior to being narrowly beaten at Churchill Downs last month.

The trainer is likely to rely on Happy Like A Fool in his bid to win his fourth renewal of the Queen Mary Stakes, with the daughter of Distorted Humor having impressed when making a winning debut at Keeneland in April.

Nootka Sound is his likely representative in the Windsor Castle Stakes and the daughter of Lonhro made a winning debut at Keeneland in April.

Another American-based trainer that will be looking to add to his previous Royal Ascot success is Mark Casse. He saddled Tepin to win a memorable renewal of the Queen Anne Stakes last year and this year he hopes to run La Coronel in the Coronation Stakes. The daughter of Colonel John is a three-time Group 3 winner in America and will rate as an interesting contender.

With over 4,000 winners to his name, Todd Pletcher doesn’t have much left to achieve in American racing, but he will bid to secure his first Royal Ascot winner this year with American Patriot in the Queen Anne Stakes. The four-year-old won the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile Stakes at Keeneland in April and will not be out of place against the best European milers.

British-born trainer Graham Motion is another American-based handler poised to send over a Royal Ascot raider, with his Miss Temple City likely to make her third visit to the meeting having finished fourth in both the Coronation Stakes in 2015 and the Duke of Cambridge Stakes in 2016. She seems likely to line up in the latter contest this year.

Bill Mott is another American trainer targeting the meeting, with his Long On Value being aimed at the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. The six-year-old showed he can travel and compete when just touched off by a nose in the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan in Dubai in March and that form makes him an interesting contender.

As well as a large group of raiders from America, French trainers are also planning on making their presence felt at the Royal meeting.

Jean-Claude Rouget had an incredible season in 2016 and with his team looking to be bouncing back from a well-publicised health issue earlier this season, he is likely to be one of the leading French trainers bidding to come away from Royal Ascot with winners.

While he isn’t a certain runner, there will be a great amount of interest in Brametot if he does indeed line up for the St James’s Palace Stakes, as the son of Rajsaman has looked to be right up there with the best three-year-olds in Europe in winning the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and the Prix du Jockey Club.

One of Rouget’s stable stars that seems a likely runner is Qemah. The daughter of Danehill Dancer won the Coronation Stakes at last year’s meeting and is set to return to contest the Duke of Cambridge Stakes for which she is sure to be a leading fancy.

The French are not well-known for producing top-class sprinters, but they very much have one in the shape of the Francois Rohaut-trained Signs Of Blessing. The son of Invincible Spirit finished a close third in last year’s renewal of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and will look to go two places better this year in either that race or the King’s Stand Stakes.

With him coming into the race off the back of a career-best performance when winning a Group 3 contest at Deauville last time, he is sure to be well-fancied which ever race he runs in.

Andre Fabre’s British raiders always warrant the utmost respect and he is likely to send over Cloth Of Stars to contest the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. The son of Sea The Stars got off the mark in Group 1 company when winning the Prix Ganay at Saint-Cloud in May and that form will make him a contender at Royal Ascot.

Fabre has also said that he may well supplement Usherette into the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, a race that she won in great style last year.

The last of Fabre's main contenders is set to be Le Brivido in the Jersey Stakes, with the son of Siyouni having just been touched off by Brametot in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains last time.

Alain De Royer-Dupre is another French trainer whose British raiders are always feared and he could well saddle Vazirabad in the Ascot Gold Cup. The son of Manduro is a two-time Group 1 winner and is well-established as one of the leading stayers in France. With his stamina for the marathon test of the Ascot Gold Cup already being proven, he is set to be a leading contender for that race.

Another interesting French contender is the Pia Brandt-trained Fas in the Commonwealth Cup. The son of Fastnet Rock has won both his starts this year, including when easily getting the better of subsequent Poule d'Essai des Pouliches winner Precieuse by 3½ lengths in a Group 3 at Chantilly in April. He seems to be progressing very nicely and has to come into considerations.