One of the many things 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 and there is set to be an array on international representation at this year’s meeting.
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 on 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. He has sent horses to the meeting almost every year since then and added to his tally there with No Nay Never, Hootenanny, Acapulco, Undrafted, Lady Aurelia and Con Te Partiro getting their heads in front for him.
Ward looks to have a particularly strong team for 2018, with him hoping that his squad will be made of as many as 16 runners. As was the case last year, his team will be led by LADY AURELIA in the King’s Stand Stakes.
The daughter of Scat Daddy has set Royal Ascot ablaze with her victories in the last two years, producing one of the most electric performances ever witnessed in a two-year-old race at the meeting when bolting up in the Queen Mary Stakes by seven lengths in 2016 and returning to win the King’s Stand Stakes in tremendous style last year. While she was beaten on her seasonal reappearance at Keeneland in April, one can sure that she has been trained with Royal Ascot in mind and with her having been so impressive there in the last two seasons, she looks to be the one to beat in the King’s Stand Stakes.
Race replay: Lady Aurelia wins the King's Stand Stakes in 2017.
Another Group 1 challenger at the meeting for Ward is likely to be BOUND FOR NOWHERE. The son of The Factor finished fourth in the Commonwealth Cup at last year’s meeting is likely to contest the Diamond Jubilee Stakes this year. He is also likely to be represented in the Jersey Stakes by HEMP HEMP HURRAY and in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes by CON TE PARTIRO.
Following the success of the aforementioned Con Te Partiro in the Sandringham Handicap at last year’s Royal meeting, Ward is set to once again have runners in valuable handicaps at the meeting with MASTER MERION in the Royal Hunt Cup and previous Royal Ascot winner UNDRAFTED in the Wokingham.
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 CHELSEA CLOISTERS, a $125,000 yearling that won by eight lengths on her debut on dirt at Keeneland and is being aimed at the Queen Mary Stakes.
Race replay: Chelsea Cloisters wins by eight lengths on debut at Keeneland in April.
STILLWATER COVE and SHANG SHANG SHANG also made winning debuts on the dirt at Keeneland and are being aimed at the Albany Stakes and Norfolk Stakes respectively. OUR PASSION is likely to run in the Windsor Castle Stakes and MOONLIGHT ROMANCE is on the team at present, but a target has yet to be decided for her.
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 GIDU in the Commonwealth Cup. The son of Frankel was originally bought as a yearling in France and will be a fascinating contender having won his last two starts in America.
Bill Mott is another American trainer targeting the meeting, with his YOSHIDA being entered for the Queen Anne Stakes. The four-year-old won in Grade 1 company at Churchill Downs in May and has been targeted at this meeting ever since. Another American-based trainer hoping to make an impact will be Tim Glyshaw who will be saddling BUCCHERO in the King’s Stand Stakes. The six-year-old won in Grade 2 company last season and will be a fascinating contender.
Australian-trained runners have made a major impact at Royal Ascot in the past and while they haven’t had a winner since Black Caviar in 2012, this year will see a very significant Australian-trained challenger in the David Hayes-trained REDKIRK WARRIOR. The seven-year-old is being aimed at the Diamond Jubilee Stakes where he is likely to meet an old rival in Merchant Navy who is now trained by Aidan O’Brien. Redkirk Warrior got the better of the argument when they met in the Lightning Stakes at Flemington in February and will be 12lb better off at the weights with him at Royal Ascot, so his connections are likely to be very hopeful of a big run from him.
Race replay: Redkirk Warrior wins the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington in March.
Not to be outdone, French trainers are also planning on making their presence felt at the Royal meeting. Jean-Claude Rouget doesn’t have many entries at this stage, but MISSION IMPASSIBLE would be a very interesting runner if taking her chance in the Coronation Stakes. The daughter of Galileo won the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham at Chantilly in early-June and wouldn’t be without a chance in the Coronation.
Andre Fabre’s raiders always warrant the utmost respect and his likeliest runner looks set to be WIND CHIMES in the Coronation Stakes. The daughter of Mastercraftsman was a fast-finishing head third in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches at Longchamp in May and appeals as being capable of even better than that.
Alain De Royer-Dupre is another French trainer whose raiders are always feared and he could well saddle VAZIRABAD for the Ascot Gold Cup. The son of Manduro is a three-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 if taking his chance.