Royal Ascot 2017 is almost upon us and one of the key things that set it apart from the other Flat festivals in the UK calendar is the large international presence that usually lines up at the Berkshire Track. Australian sprinters, in particular, have been regular visitors over the past 10 years, with big names like Miss Andretti, Takeover Target and of course Black Caviar all showing the home team how it’s done in the King’s Stand Stakes and Diamond Jubilee. The Aussie challenge is noticeable by its absence this time around but fortunately for us spectators we have the emergence of the American thoroughbred at Ascot to look forward to.
Spearheaded by a California-based racing trainer by the name of Wesley Ward, a champion jockey during his time in the saddle, we are now seeing a swathe of very speedy US trained horses coming over in an attempt to mop up the key sprint races, and particularly the juvenile contests. It all started in 2009 when Strike the Target was entered in the Windsor Castle Stakes and duly did the job at massive odds of 33/1. Unfortunately for punters, odds as big as those were never dished out again for his clearly very talented riders who seem to have greyhound-like speed from the stalls, according to online pundits who have visualised them racing against some of the world's fastest animals.
The same year Jealous Again won the Queen Mary Stakes by 5 lengths and Cannonball was denied by the shortest of margins in the Golden Jubilee Stakes (now Diamond Jubilee Stakes) and the Royal Ascot winners have kept on coming for Ward since then. He now has 7 Royal Ascot winners at almost a 20% strike rate and this year he claims his team of challengers are ‘100% the strongest he has ever bought over’. This year he’s joined by fellow US trainers Todd Pletcher, trainer of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, and Bill Mott, who is best known for his handling of the legendary Cigar during the 90s, and you’d be foolish not to consider their chances very strongly indeed when browsing through the form book.
Queen Anne Stakes - Tuesday 20th June
American Patriot – Todd Pletcher
Todd Pletcher makes his first trip to Ascot and this colt has won five of his eleven starts, including a first Group 1 victory on latest start. Will enjoy the 1m trip and the fact the ground will likely be very fast will also help. Still improving but not quite the profile of a superstar and on the face of it would appear to have a fair bit to find with favourite Ribchester. Currently available to back at odds around the 20/1 mark.
Diamond Jubilee Stakes - Saturday 24th June
Long On Value – Bill Mott
First trip to Ascot for Bill Mott and he brings with him his globetrotting sprinter Long On Value who was narrowly denied a huge pot in Dubai earlier this year when unlucky in running and on the ground that was probably too soft. Returning to these conditions will suit and has seemed rejuvenated by dropping back to 6f as a six-year-old. Currently available to back at odds around the 33/1 mark.
King's Stand Stakes - Tuesday 20th
Lady Aurelia – Wesley Ward
The headline act of Wesley Ward’s team and won last year’s Queen Mary Stakes from the front in a breath-taking show of speed. Remained in Europe afterwards, winning a French Group 1 before only finishing 3rd in the Group1 Cheveley Park Stakes, both times over 6f. Dropping back to 5f for the King’s Stand Stakes should suit and this track probably more to her liking than Newmarket was, too. No easy task against our 5f sprinters but is favourite for a good reason. Currently available to back at around the 7/2 mark.
Coventry Stakes - Tuesday 20th
Arawak - Wesley Ward
Just one start back in the States and that was a maiden victory by 7 lengths at Belmont Park. That doesn’t tell us much in terms of whether he’s good enough for this step up in class but his trainer regards him highly enough to put him on the plane over which says a fair amount. Owned by familiar names of Tabor, Magnier and Smith and will be running in the Coventry Stakes. Currently available to back at around the 6/1 mark.
Windsor Castle Stakes- Tuesday 20th
Nootka Sound - Wesley Ward
Another with just one run and one win under her belt, a convincing 5 length win at Keeneland to set her up for a crack at the Windsor Castle Stakes, a race her trainer has scooped twice since 2009. Likely to be very competitive and available to back at odds of around 6/1.
Commonwealth Cup Cup - Friday 23rd
Bound for Nowhere - Wesley Ward
3-year-old colt with two wins from two starts so far and taking on some stern opposition in the Commonwealth Cup over 6f. Looks an exciting prospect, to say the least but beating Caravaggio and Harry Angel won’t be easy. Could be the value in the race at around the 12/1 mark.