Wesley Ward's two-year-olds

The ten-time Royal Ascot scorer has eight juveniles for 2019.

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By Nicholas Godfrey

TEN winners in ten years is the estimable record of Royal Ascot’s adopted American son Wesley Ward, so when the Keeneland-based trainer suggests he has assembled his strongest team ever, it is probably worth taking notice.

Admittedly, his 2019 raiding party has been weakened by the injury to highly fancied Lady Pauline, ruled out of the Queen Mary after a setback at Ward’s temporary Manton base, but he still plans to field seven two-year-olds alongside Royal Ascot regular Bound For Nowhere, who is actually bound for the Diamond Jubilee.

Seven times Ward has tasted success with his Royal Ascot juveniles, who can be relied upon to strike in what has become trademark fashion: break from the stalls like a shot from a gun, then try to make all.

However, they are usually all well supported in the market, and it can be a tricky assignment sorting out the Ward wheat from the chaff. Apart from Chesham-bound Joker On Jack, stationed at Manton since running at Newbury, the Magnificent Seven who arrived last week from the States, have similar credentials – they’ve all run once in the States, and won once in the States

John Velazquez and Tyler Gaffalione are coming into ride them, and final decisions on race targets may not be made until the week of the meeting itself.

Most of Ward’s runners will be running on turf for the first time, and most of them will be stepping up in trip. That final furlong uphill can be a long way, and be warned: Ward’s chances tend to diminish with every drop of rain that falls.

Here, then, are pen pictures of Wesley Ward’s two-year-old armada for 2019.

ANNA’S FAST

Target: Queen Mary Stakes
Owner: Breeze Easy LLC
Age & breeding: 2 bf Fast Anna - True Will (Yes It’s True)
One career run: Won Keeneland MSW (April 24) over 4/12f on dirt

Typically faultless odds-on debut at Ward’s home track Keeneland, where she sprinted clear early under Tyler Gaffalione and drew away to score by 5 1/2 lengths without any semblance of effort. The runner-up was a beaten odds-on favourite next time out at Churchill Downs.

Her owners, Breeze Easy, fell in love with Royal Ascot 12 months ago when Shang Shang Shang carried their silks to win the Norfolk. A switch to that race, won three times by Ward, might be interesting.

However, although we know this $470k two-year-old purchase is pretty fast – can we be sure she will appreciate turf? While the trainer’s representatives rarely seem to resent the switch to grass, Anna’s Fast looks totally dirt-bred.

The Albany has also been mentioned as a possibility but seems unlikely given stamina questions and the presence of Nayibeth (see below).


CHILI PETIN

Target: Windsor Castle Stakes
Owner: Hat Creek Racing
Age & breeding: 2 bf City Zip - Cat’s Claw (Dynaformer)
One career run: Won Keeneland MSW (April 27) over 4/12f on dirt

Lots to like about this one’s sole effort on the Keeneland dirt, where she was taken on for the lead before drawing clear under a drive to win nicely. 

While the bare form doesn’t look entirely hot (runner-up beaten twice since), this $32k yearling will have benefited from the experience and, unlike some of Ward’s other runners, is bred to appreciate the move to the green stuff with a high level of turf form on both sides of her pedigree.

Moreover, Ward suggested she posted a what he described as “huge work” before shipping to Manton, adding: “Chili Petin was a really nice winner and bred for the grass.”

Represents Lexington-based bloodstock agent Gatewood Bell’s Hat Creek Racing, who won the Sandringham with Con Te Partiro a couple of years ago.


FOOLISH HUMOR

Target: Windsor Castle Stakes
Owner: Andrew Farm
Age & breeding: 2 ch f Distorted Humor - Foolish Cause (Giant’s Causeway)
One career run: Won Belmont MSW (May 2) over 5f on turf

Convincing winning debut at Belmont at the start of May, justifying favouritism to score by 2 3/4 lengths after tracking stablemate Pushover and assuming command as they entered the stretch.

Though the time was nothing special, this $200,000 yearling won readily enough (value for more) and she is already proven on turf.

Set to run in the Windsor Castle, where Ward announced his Royal Ascot arrival ten years ago with Strike The Tiger. He won it again in 2014 with Hootenanny.

JOKER ON JACK

Target: Chesham Stakes
Owner: Ice Wine
Stable Age & breeding: 2 ch c Declaration Of War - Aventure Love (Orpen)
Form figures: 17 Two runs: Won Keeneland MSW on dirt over 41/2f (April 18) then 7th of 8 at Newbury over 6f (May 18)

Looked a typical Wesley Ward speedster when never headed on winning debut over 41/2 furlongs on dirt at Keeneland, keeping on strongly under Tyler Gaffalione to slam an odds-on Todd Pletcher-trained favourite.

With that in mind, his subsequent effort a month later at Newbury can be regarded only as a disappointment as he faded after making the running at 6f. On the plus side, that looked a strong race featuring several previous winners and not only did Joker On Jack shoulder a 2lb penalty after his transatlantic journey, he also got bumped when challenged entering the final furlong.

As such, perhaps the run can be forgiven and he’s had plenty of time to acclimatise since at Manton, though his name was a late addition to Ward’s Royal Ascot team and a further step up in trip for the Chesham hardly looks ideal.


KARAK

Target: Queen Mary or Norfolk Stakes
Owner: Breeze Easy LLC
Age & breeding: 2 bf Karakontie - Down The Well (Mujadil)
One career run: Won Belmont MSW (May 25) over 5f on turf

Bought for $365,000 and easily handled better-fancied stablemate No Nay Maybe for a three-length victory on debut on turf, in the process becoming a first two-year-old winner for 2014 Breeders’ Cup Mile victor Karakontie.

Although the Queen Mary is an obvious target, her owners Breeze Easy also have Anna’s Fast for the fillies’ race so she might be interesting if tried against the colts in the Norfolk, a race her owners won last term with Shang Shang Shang,


KIMARI

Target: Queen Mary Stakes
Owner: Richard Ravin
Age & breeding: 2 bf Munnings - Cozze Up Lady (Cozzene)
One career run: Won Keeneland MSW (April 25) over 4/12f on dirt

Blindingly fast filly smashed her rivals in a 15-length demolition job under Johnny V on her Keeneland debut.

Her time that day was a rapid 51.02s, significantly quicker than anything achieved by any of the other Ward runners at the same track and trip; speed figures also suggest a noteworthy effort. And this despite breaking a step slow from the gate.

What is more, Kimari also posted a bullet workout at Keeneland before getting on the plane to England and this $152k yearling is also out of a dam who won on turf, dirt and all-weather. If she likes the Ascot turf, she can make them all go.


MAVEN

Target: Norfolk Stakes
Owner: Richard Ravin
Age & breeding: 2 ch c American Pharoah - Richies Party Girl (Any Given Saturday)
One career run: Won Aqueduct MSW (April 19) over 4/12f on dirt

A new departure for Ward in that he not only trains this colt, he also bred her, by Triple Crown hero American Pharoah out of a dam whom he trained to score at a decent level in turf stakes as a juvenile.

Maven was American Pharoah’s first offspring to win in North America, making all (naturally) to score by a cosy half-length. The Beyer speed figure came out quite high, the first two finished miles clear and runner-up Lebda was a subsequent winner at Laurel.

Ward also says he’s moved forward since his debut, and Ward has won the Norfolk twice already.


NAYIBETH

Target: Albany Stakes
Owner: Ramon Tallej
Age & breeding: 2 bf Carpe Diem - Le Relais (Coronado’s Quest)
One career run: Won Keeneland MSW (April 17) over 4/12f on dirt

Pinpointed as the most likely winner among Ward’s two-year-old contingent since an explosive debut in a maiden special weight contest at Keeneland, making all before sauntering away from stablemate Owlette for a 4 1/4-length victory under nothing more than a hand ride from Joel Rosario. A final time of 51.54s looks good in that context.

The first winner for her sire Carpe Diem, she was sent off a 30-100 chance and the remainder were strung out behind (third was nearly eight off the second, who has won since at Woodbine).

“She won with speed to spare,” said Ward. “She was my most impressive two-year-old winner because she won against the bridle.”

Those looking for possible negatives will point to the dirt-to-turf switch while the extra distance raises a potential question mark – remember, the Albany, long since nominated as her target, is over six furlongs and it is a race Ward has never won.

Then again, this $230,000 yearling is a half-sister to former high-class US two-year-old Soldat, who won a Grade 3 over a mile at Saratoga as a juvenile before coming second on turf at the Breeders’ Cup.


Wesley Ward's two-year-olds