Americans will be well represented in next week’s sprint features at Royal Ascot. Trainer Wesley Ward’s team includes seven promising two-year-olds and veteran Bound for Nowhere, who was nabbed last out by Imprimis, also Ascot-bound for Joe Orseno.
The older sprinters are not expected to renew rivalry across the pond, with each circling different targets. Imprimis is aiming for the five-furlong King’s Stand (G1) on opening day, June 18, while Bound for Nowhere is set for another tilt in the six-furlong Diamond Jubilee (G1) on closing day, June 22.
Orseno is right to stick to the shorter trip for Imprimis, who’s so effective around a turning five furlongs or so stateside. His only attempt at six furlongs, in last summer’s Highlander (G1) at Woodbine, was inconclusive, since he was shut off on the rail in the stretch and wound up sixth. Since it’s uncertain how he’d handle a stiffer six down the Ascot straight in the Diamond Jubilee, the King’s Stand is the more logical spot.
Imprimis extended his career record to seven-for-nine in the April 6 Shakertown (G2) at Keeneland, despite taking a nosedive out of the gate. Racing farther off the pace as a result, the Broken Vow gelding nevertheless still ran down defending champion Bound for Nowhere by a neck.
That victory elevated Imprimis and enticed Frankie Dettori to take the Royal Ascot mount. As good as he’d looked winning minor stakes at Gulfstream Park, Pimlico, and Monmouth, beating an internationally competitive rival in a Keeneland Grade 2 gave him a rich piece of form. Considering how American sprinters have held their own on the world stage in recent years, he deserves his chance, and his ability to handle all types of ground is a plus.
Bound for Nowhere, to be fair, was making his reappearance in the Shakertown, and Ward has said that he’ll come on a bundle in the Diamond Jubilee.
“He should be ready to run the race of his life this year,” Ward told attheraces.com.
Bound for Nowhere has run two creditable races in defeat in his prior course-and-distance attempts, so any degree of improvement makes him a serious threat. In 2017, he made an ambitious stakes debut in the Commonwealth Cup (G1), in just his third career start, and finished a clear fourth to Caravaggio, Harry Angel, and Blue Point.
Last year, Bound for Nowhere knocked off the rust at Turfway before posting a new career high in the Shakertown. Unfortunately, his trip in the Diamond Jubilee left something to be desired, as he raced in isolation on the lead before hanging left to join the rest of the field. Still, he was beaten only three-quarters of a length by Aidan O’Brien’s Australian import Merchant Navy and France’s City Light.
Ward already sports a win in the Diamond Jubilee, courtesy of Undrafted (2015), but most of his success at the meeting has come with his two-year-olds. Of his 10 Royal Ascot winners, seven were juveniles in five-furlong contests. Ward’s won the Queen Mary (G2) three times – Jealous Again (2009), Acapulco (2015), and Lady Aurelia (2016) – the Norfolk (G2) twice with No Nay Never (2013) and Shang Shang Shang (2018), and the Windsor Castle twice with Strike the Tiger (2009) and Hootenanny (2014).
All seven of his 2019 juvenile battalion are coming off debut maiden scores. A few have fixed objectives, but others are fluid at this writing. Once again the Queen Mary and Windsor Castle, both June 19, and the June 20 Norfolk loom large in his plans, and Ward will try for the elusive six-furlong Albany (G3) on June 21.
The Queen Mary will attract at least one Ward flyer in Ten Broeck Farm’s Kimari, who dusted males by 15 lengths in her unveiling at Keeneland April 25. Off a beat slow, she recovered quickly to take command and widened her advantage with every stride down the stretch. The distant runner-up, Halfmoon Reef, came back to score in the slop at Churchill Downs. More persuasively, Kimari clocked the fastest 4 1/2 furlongs of the Keeneland meet in :51.02 (104 Brisnet Speed rating). The switch to turf figures to agree with her on two counts. First, she’s a daughter of Munnings and the Grade 3-winning Cozzene mare Cozze Up Lady, primarily a synthetic/turf performer. Second, Kimari tied (with Chili Petin) for the bullet half-mile work in :47.80 around the “dogs” on the Keeneland turf June 2.
Anna’s Fast could be in line for the Queen Mary (but Ward is now favoring the Norfolk, as reported by Ron Flatter) after dominating her April 24 Keeneland maiden in :52.50. Although her time wasn’t as fast, the Breeze Easy runner was neither extended nor asked in what looked like a gallop, and she became a headline-worthy first winner for freshman sire Fast Anna. Runner-up Topless was subsequently a well-beaten third to Perfect Alibi at Churchill (and Perfect Alibi just finished second as the 6-5 favorite in the Astoria). Anna’s Fast’s action looks perfectly suited to dirt, yet the $470,000 OBS March purchase did drill in :9 4/5 at the under tack show on synthetic, and blitzed in a bullet :45.60 around the “dogs” on Keeneland’s turf May 19 (tying Nayibeth). Note that Fast Anna won his only turf start and sports turf influences in his pedigree.
Karak, the first winner sired by 2014 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) star Karakontie, is another OBS March acquisition by Breeze Easy who would fit the Queen Mary or Norfolk. The $365,000 juvenile debuted later than Ward’s past Royal winners – May 25 – but looked sharp when defeating the boys in :57.38 for five furlongs on Belmont’s firm Widener turf. Karak outbroke stablemate and 6-5 favorite No Nay Maybe, who rushed up to vie but ultimately couldn’t go on with the filly. Green when veering out as she broke on top, and again when lugging in at the top of the stretch, she leveled off on her left lead and rolled by three lengths in a strung-out field.
A $365,000 filly by Karakontie that we hear could be part of the Wesley Ward Royal @Ascot team – say hello to Karak, impressive debut winner against the boys at Belmont under @iradortiz! pic.twitter.com/XyAvE2YRsF
Ward’s confirmed Norfolk contender is the American Pharoah colt Maven, who’s been earmarked for this race since his wire job on April 19 Aqueduct, notwithstanding his throwaway entry in last Friday’s Tremont. Bred by Ward and racing for Richie Ravin – same connections as his dam, multiple stakes-winning turf sprinter Richies Party Girl – Maven reeled off 4 1/2 furlongs in :52.82 to become American Pharoah’s first North American winner. Lebda was getting to him late, but they were 11 lengths ahead of the rest, and the runner-up promptly went on to graduate at Laurel himself. Moreover, if Maven’s future lies on turf as Ward believes, his performance on a second-preference surface is even better.
✅By American Pharoah
✅Targeting Norfolk Stakes
Ramon Tallaj’s Nayibeth, Ward’s hope for a first Albany, has been the subject of special praise from her trainer.
“I really, really like her,” Ward told attheraces.com.
The first winner for freshman sire Carpe Diem, Nayibeth scored in hand, ears pricked, in her 4 1/2-furlong debut at Keeneland April 17. She drew off in :51.54 from stablemate Owlette, who was all alone in second and in turn came back to dominate a Woodbine maiden. Pedigree offers hope that the half to Soldat will transfer her ability over six furlongs on turf. On the other hand, Nayibeth looked like a quick-striding type at Keeneland, and given her high speed in works (she twice blasted in :34 and change on dirt prior to her first start, and in :45.60 around the “dogs” at Keeneland May 19), it’s an open question whether she can carry it down a stiffish straightaway like Ascot.
Hat Creek Racing’s Chili Petin, initially penciled in for the Windsor Castle, might have worked herself into the Norfolk picture. Unveiled on the same Keeneland card as Nayibeth, the City Zip filly had to work a bit harder early but pulled away convincingly in :52.65. Runner-up Biddy Duke has let the form down since, but third My Good Girl graduated by 7 3/4 lengths next time at Indiana Grand. Chili Petin has a right to improve as a daughter of the late-maturing Dynaformer mare Cat’s Claw, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Waya on the Saratoga turf in 2014. This is the family of Point of Entry, Pine Island, and recent Acorn (G1) record-setter Guarana. Ward described her June 2 work as “huge” – she equaled Kimari’s bullet half of :47.80 around the “dogs” on the Keeneland turf.
Andrew Farm’s Foolish Humor is ticketed for the Windsor Castle after her May 2 Belmont Park score over fellow fillies. Stalking and pouncing on stablemate Pushover (who folded to fifth), she was ridden out in :58.75 on a “good” Widener course. The Distorted Humor filly is out of a Giant’s Causeway half to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Get Stormy.
Another winning debut for Wesley Ward as $200,000 yearling Foolish Humor claims victory at the first time of asking at Belmont! pic.twitter.com/9aeU20ykk1
No longer among the Ward party is Lady Pauline, Lady Aurelia’s half-sister, who has been ruled out of Royal Ascot with an injury.
Ward summed up his squad while reiterating his hopes for sunny weather and quick conditions: “I don't think I have a Lady Aurelia in there, but as a group they're very solid.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez and Tyler Gaffalione reportedly will come in for rides aboard the Ward runners.
Royal Ascot photo (c) Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com