Ward's squad leads Team USA at Royal Ascot
Trainer Wesley Ward returns to Royal Ascot with another robust team, led by Group 1 heroine Campanelle. As Ward seeks to pad his total of 11 wins at the prestigious meeting, two other American-based horsemen are trying for their first. Irish expat Brendan Walsh sends out Extravagant Kid, who proved himself on the international stage in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1), and Rusty Arnold has a juvenile filly on the scene.
Here’s how the American challenge shapes up, in race order.
Kaufymaker - Tuesday’s Coventry S. (G2)
Ward has yet to win the Coventry S. (G2), but he’s rarely tried the marquee six-furlong event for juveniles. His three attempts so far have all ended up well beaten, and Kaufymaker must overcome an even more daunting historical stat: no filly has beaten the boys in this race for more than a century, since the First World War.
But Ward has been persuaded by Kaufymaker herself to aim high. And it’s not because she rolled as the even-money favorite in her Keeneland debut, a 4 1/2-furlong maiden on dirt.
The Greg Kaufman homebred became a surprise package for Ward once he worked her on turf. By Jimmy Creed, sire of Casa Creed who just punched his Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) ticket in the Jaipur (G1), Kaufymaker blossomed on the surface switch.
In the Keeneland barn notes, Ward indicated that Kaufymaker entered the Royal Ascot picture after she outworked Golden Bell on the turf course May 21. Her half-mile in :47.80, around the “dogs,” tied with older stablemates Maven and Kimari for the bullet on the day. Kaufymaker’s initial possibilities were the fillies’ races, until she arrived in Newmarket. Her breeze on the Limekilns signaled that a bigger target was worth pursuing.
“She’s the ‘now horse’ who’s thriving,” Ward said on Nick Luck’s podcast, with irrepressible enthusiasm. “I don’t know if I have another horse in my stable that could beat her going six furlongs.”
Ward explained that unlike his typical two-year-olds, who blast from the gate but might not last down the straight, Kaufymaker is capable of settling and deploying a long stride.
In the At the Races stable tour, Ward summed up: “The way she moved on the grass, I think she’s going to be one of my best chances.”
The biggest caveat is that Kaufymaker didn’t beat much in her April 15 unveiling in :52.69. Ward’s excitement about her, rather than the bare form, is her main claim.
Extravagant Kid - Tuesday’s King’s Stand S. (G1)
The Walsh-trained Extravagant Kid was last seen making history in the Al Quoz, where he became the first U.S. shipper to win a turf race on Dubai World Cup night. It was an especially satisfying result for the eight-year-old veteran who had endured a lengthy bout of seconditis. His sequence of runner-up efforts was interrupted only by a wide-trip fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Walsh’s judgment was spot-on that Extravagant Kid would enjoy the straightaway at Meydan, and Ascot gives him a similar opportunity. But it’s not quite the same. While the about six-furlong Al Quoz suited him well at a flat Meydan, the topography here poses a stiffer test. Hence the five-furlong King’s Stand appealed more than sticking to six for Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee (G1). Decisive input came from British ace Ryan Moore, who notably stays aboard.
Maven - King's Stand
Maven will bid to give Ward his second King’s Stand victory, after the brilliant Lady Aurelia (2017). The first North American winner sired by American Pharoah, Maven was earmarked for Royal Ascot as a juvenile but ended up skipping it due to soft ground. Although he was rerouted successfully to the Prix du Bois (G3) that summer of 2019, Maven disappointed in his ensuing stakes appearances.
Gelding him last fall was apparently the making of him, for the four-year-old looked better than ever in his April 15 reappearance at Keeneland. Cruising on the front end, Maven kept finding to prevail by daylight.
Maven confirmed his well-being in ensuing works at Keeneland, including the aforementioned bullet in :47.80 on May 21 and five furlongs in 1:00.80 on May 28.
“He outworked Kimari,” Ward said in the At the Races stable tour, “and if you outwork Kimari you’re worthy of going. I think he’s going to run a hell of a race.”
Both Maven and Extravagant Kid have a task versus defending champion Battaash. But if Battaash is not quite at his best in his comeback from injury, the King’s Stand is up for grabs.
Twilight Gleaming - Wednesday’s Queen Mary S. (G2)
Just as Kaufymaker earned an upgrade to the Coventry, so did stablemate Twilight Gleaming in heading to the Queen Mary S. (G2). Ward originally had her penciled in for the Windsor Castle S. later on the card, but swapped objectives after she edged fellow Stonestreet Stables runner Ruthin in their latest move. Speaking on Luck’s podcast, Ward noted that it was just a matter of determining which one was doing a bit better, without there being a great deal between them.
Twilight Gleaming’s upgrade likely has a greater impact considering Ward’s record in the Queen Mary. Four of his 11 wins at the Royal meeting have come in this race, two of them involving Stonestreet – homebred Lady Aurelia (2016) and Tattersalls purchase Campanelle (2020).
Like Campanelle, Twilight Gleaming is an Irish-bred, but she didn’t cost as much. The £75,000 Goffs Orby yearling is from the first crop of National Defense, a French highweight juvenile by Invincible Spirit. Twilight Gleaming is out of the Dansili mare Thames Pageant, who was bred by Queen Elizabeth II and descended from her multiple Group 2 winner Phantom Gold.
With a turf-oriented pedigree, it’s no wonder that Twilight Gleaming improved from her dirt debut. The 3-5 favorite ran creditably in that April 8 dash at Keeneland, breaking slowly and making a sustained move to challenge before stalling in second. But Twilight Gleaming was a different animal next time on Belmont’s Widener turf. The odds-on favorite showed loads of speed and drew away under confident handling in :56.49 for five furlongs.
Artos - Queen Mary
The Arnold-trained Artos comes off a scrappy maiden win over males. No match for Ruthin in their mutual debut (see below) at Keeneland, Artos showed speed on the inside at Churchill Downs before apparently checking out of contention. Then the 3-1 chance regrouped, got a split, and quickened to nip Ward’s 3-5 shot Overbore, who had been under Royal Ascot consideration himself. Overbore instead stayed stateside, reverted to dirt, and won the June 4 Tremont.
Although not as visually impressive as Twilight Gleaming, Artos is an Irish-bred with pedigree power too. She is by the prolific Kodiac (Campanelle’s sire) and out of the multiple Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Shimmering Moment, who is herself a half-sister (by Afleet Alex) to two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint champ Stormy Liberal and multiple Grade 2 hero Leinster. Bloodstock agent Kerri Radcliffe picked up Artos for 85,000 guineas as a Tattersalls December weanling.
Ruthin - Wednesday’s Windsor Castle S.
British-bred Ruthin ran off as much the best in a 5 1/2-furlong turf maiden at Keeneland, yet the debutante was green as the grass. The 3-5 favorite gawked, veered around in the stretch, changed leads, and came across as hard to handle. Hence the relatively easier company of the Windsor Castle, albeit versus males, is better for her than the initial idea of the Queen Mary.
Note that key equipment changes are in store. Ward revealed that Ruthin will don a figure eight bridle and a tongue tie, which could make all the difference in her racing manners. She’ll try to give her trainer a third win in the Windsor Castle, but his first with a filly.
A 350,000 guineas yearling at Tattersalls October, Ruthin is from the first crop at Ribchester, who was a Royal Ascot star himself. She is a half-sister to multiple Group 3-winning sprinter Hit the Bid. Their dam, multiple stakes scorer Selinka by Selkirk, hails from the further family of speedsters Khaadem, Log Out Island, and Bold Edge.
Golden Bell - Windsor Castle or Friday’s Albany S. (G3)
Ward described Golden Bell as “probably my most impressive Keeneland winner” in his “At the Races” stable tour. The 4-5 shot shrugged off a challenge from slight favorite (and next-out winner) Cartel Queen and powered clear in a sharp :51.53 for 4 1/2 furlongs.
The question is whether that promising dirt performance will translate to turf. Ward said that the Macho Uno filly’s second turf work was superior to an average first feel for the surface. Pedigree offers encouragement since her half-brother Doc Boy is a multiple turf stakes winner, and their granddam is champion turf female Perfect Sting. Yet Ward is cross-entering her to the Windsor Castle in addition to her original target of Friday’s Albany S. (G3), which he’s yet to win.
Lucci & Nakatomi - Thursday’s Norfolk S. (G2)
The theme of ever-evolving juveniles continues with Ward’s pair for the Norfolk S. (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2). Nakatomi, originally set to remain on dirt for the Tremont, touted himself in his turf works. Lucci, whom Ward has always regarded as the type for Royal Ascot, only just got the upper hand against work companion Nakatomi. Each will try to hand Ward a third Norfolk win.
Lucci debuted at Belmont May 9 – the same day and distance as Twilight Gleaming’s race – and wired his maiden in :56.92. Although the 1.25-1 favorite was asked more to assert than Twilight Gleaming, and clocked a couple of ticks slower, Ward told At the Races he was more impressed with the colt since he lacked experience.
By Not This Time and out of a Lookin at Lucky mare, Lucci was sold for $290,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton.
Nakatomi, a son of Firing Line and a Flatter mare, was a bargain buy for $25,000 at Fasig-Tipton October. The chestnut gelding toppled even-money stablemate Happy Soul in their unveiling at a sloppy Keeneland, where the 5-2 chance chased and then surged past to finish 4 1/2 furlongs in :51.35. Happy Soul has gone on to win her next two by more than 23 lengths combined, including the June 3 Astoria S.
Oisin Murphy picks up the mount on Nakatomi. John Velazquez, who stays aboard Lucci, rides nearly all the other Ward runners.
Campanelle – Friday’s Commonwealth Cup (G1)
Frankie Dettori maintains his partnership with Campanelle, who will try to emulate Lady Aurelia as a two-time winner at Royal Ascot for Ward. While both won the Queen Mary as juveniles, they’re different types. Campanelle was more authoritative in the about six-furlong Prix Morny (G1) than in the Queen Mary, and she tried a mile when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Her ability to handle more ground than Lady Aurelia meant that the six-furlong Commonwealth Cup for sophomores was always her objective.
Campanelle has the class, as Europe’s joint champion two-year-old filly of 2020. The caveat is that she missed her intended prep at Keeneland with a bruised heel. She’s over that now and pleased Dettori in her recent work. Ward has noted she can fire fresh and enters in “fantastic” shape, but admitted in the stable tour that he “probably would have preferred a race” beforehand.
Although Ward is looking for his first win in this race, the Commonwealth Cup was just inaugurated in 2015, and he’s gone close. Fourth with Bound for Nowhere in 2017, he was second with Kimari last year.