Wesley Ward is planning an ambitious assault on the Coventry Stakes with his filly Kaufymaker, one of nine runners the American handler is likely to send out at Royal Ascot next week.
The fact that fillies barely tend to line up in the six-furlong Group 2 contest, let alone win it, holds no fears for Ward, who believes that Kaufymaker represents his best chance of juvenile success at next week’s meeting.
A big, long-striding daughter of Jimmy Creed bred and owned by Greg Kaufman, Kaufymaker won her sole start, a dirt Keeneland maiden, by six-and-a-quarter lengths back in April. However, it has been her subsequent homework on grass that has Ward excited.
“Kaufymaker won and then we put her on the grass and she took to it like a duck to water,” said Ward as he watched over his string on a glorious morning at the National Stud in Newmarket on Wednesday. “She’s risen to the top of all the grass workers I’ve got coming into this meet.
“So I’m going to give her the biggest assignment and she’s going to go in the Coventry. She has this big, long stride and she’s the best I have so that’s why I’m putting her in there.”
The Coventry Stakes, which serves as one of the highlights of the opening day of the royal meeting, is invariably the domain of colts; indeed, you have to go back to 1916 to find the last successful filly, Sir George Lambton’s Diadem. However, Ward is undeterred.
“I think it’s a bit of an advantage at this time of the year to have a filly against the colts,” he says. “If you look at the times of the recent two-year-old races, especially in the States, the fillies are always faster. Same with the times at the breeze-ups – the fillies are always faster. It’s like young girls and boys at school – for whatever reason, the girls mature a little faster.”
He added: “She’s bred by a wonderful owner of mine, Greg Kaufman. I raised her on my farm, so she was raised right with my own, and I feel like I’m the breeder too. Greg is a wonderful guy, he’s over here now looking forward to it, and he’s going to enjoy it.”
‘Impressive’ Golden Bell for Albany
Fellow Keeneland dirt winner Golden Bell is slated for the Albany Stakes. Owned by Hat Creek Racing and Cheyenne Stable LLC, the daughter of Macho Uno never saw another horse when powering away for a five-and-a-quarter length debut win and is steadily gaining confidence on the turf, as Ward outlined.
“She’s a really nice filly and probably the most impressive dirt winner that we had at Keeneland,” he said. “So we worked her on the grass and she probably didn’t quite do it the first time. When two-year-olds switch surfaces for the first time, they can be a little unsure of their footing. I was tossing yes or no for the grass, so we gave her one more go the following week and it was completely different, she flew.
“We worked her here the other day on the Golden Mile with Campanelle and again, it was a little like her first work – it’s very different for them here as it’s more like being in a big field with there being no rails.
“We had a light girl on her and Frankie was on Campanelle, and she floundered a little. It was a bit like watching a leopard dive in on an antelope as Campanelle came to her but when she did, Golden Bell kicked on a little bit, which was pleasing. She was just a little green and she will have learnt plenty. We’ll go again on Sunday, depending on how the course is.”
Duo for Norfolk
Meanwhile, Lucci and Nakatomi are likely to do battle in the Norfolk Stakes. Lucci, a second-crop son of the Giant’s Causeway stallion Not This Time, was an impressive winner of his debut at Belmont Park while Nakatomi, a gelded son of Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line, defeated subsequent Astoria Stakes heroine Happy Soul to win his maiden at Keeneland.
“It’s tough to say which one is the better,” said Ward. “They’ve all travelled well and really thrived – in fact, we’ve had to cut back the feed on Nakatomi because he’s getting a little chubby.
“We ran Nakatomi first time on the dirt against a filly of mine. It was a sloppy track and she bounced off in front but he tracked her and went right on by. The filly came back to win next time out by 11 lengths at Belmont Park and then won a stakes [race].
“I was never really thinking Ascot with Nakatomi – he’s dirt-bred and I was thinking more of the Tremont Stakes at Belmont and then on to Saratoga for the dirt races – but we gave him one shot on the grass and he flew.
“We worked Lucci and Nakatomi against each other again the other day on the Golden Mile. Oisin Murphy was on Nakatomi and I had a light girl on Lucci, and Lucci was well on top at the end. But he had a big weight advantage and I’d say without that, they’re about equal.”
Campanelle back for more
It could also be a memorable week for one of Ward’s biggest supporters, Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Farm.
Banke enjoyed an important highlight last year courtesy of Campanelle’s victory in the Queen Mary Stakes. The daughter of Kodiac, a Tattersalls October purchase through Ben McElroy as a yearling, later followed up in the Prix Morny and returns for another assault on the royal meeting, this time in the Commonwealth Cup.
“Campanelle was always number one for us last year and she vindicated that,” said Ward. “We tried to stretch her out in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf – it came at the end of a long year and she was very well travelled, so I thought that she put up an incredible race to be fourth. I still don’t think that a mile is out of her capabilities.
“The goal from that day forward was the Commonwealth Cup. She wintered at Barbara Banke’s farm in Florida where she was prepared well by Ian Brennan. She put in some eye-opening breezes down there, came up to me in Keeneland and was ready to run, only for her to bruise her heels just as we were coming up to a race.
“Just as a precaution, we sent her in for scans and everything was perfect.
“Every work since then has been perfect. Frankie worked her last Sunday and he jumped off her covered in smiles, he’s excited. A Group 1 is never easy but I know she’s going to bring her A-game.”
Stonestreet is also set to be represented at the meeting by Napa Spirit, last year’s £420,000 Goffs Orby sale-topping colt who goes in the Coventry Stakes, Ruthin, a first-crop daughter of Ribchester purchased for 350,000gns at Tattersalls who runs in the Windsor Castle Stakes following an impressive debut win at Keeneland, and Twilight Gleaming, a first-crop daughter of National Defense who runs in the Queen Mary Stakes after scoring second time out at Belmont Park.
“Ruthin won well in April,” said Ward. “She may have had a little displacement in her last two workouts so we’re going to put a tongue tie on her with a figure of eight noseband. That usually keeps the tongue in the same place and I think that will make a big difference.
“Ruthin and Twilight Gleaming work together and we were tossing between the two for the Queen Mary. Looking at them, you would say Twilight Gleaming is a shade better in her works. Both are owned by Barbara Banke and you’ve got to go with what you see and what is happening at the time, so Ruthin will go for the Windsor Castle and Twilight Gleaming for the Queen Mary.”
Ward’s Royal Ascot battalion is rounded out by King’s Stand Stakes hopeful Maven, who struck in the Prix du Bois on his last trip to Europe in 2019.
Ward landed his first Royal Ascot success back in 2009 when Strike The Tiger captured the Windsor Castle Stakes. Now 14-years-old, the gelding fulfils an important role as lead pony for all of Ward’s up-and-coming Ascot hopefuls.
Stars such as No Nay Never, Lady Aurelia, Acapulco and Undrafted have flown the flag to great effect in the time since then. But although Ward has become an annual and expected presence at Ascot, his appetite for success at the meeting remains undiminished.
“It’s the place to be that week,” he says. “It’s like going back in time to the 1700s. The people are beautifully dressed, they’re watching the horses, they’re wagering, they’re having a good time and more than a little champagne – it’s a great place to be and there’s no other place that we’d rather be in June.
“It’s very special. I remember the first one that I ran got beat and I looked around and was kind of thinking that I had taken the wrong bus! But then Strike The Tiger won and then the one I had running the next day [Jealous Again in the Queen Mary Stakes] won.
“It’s been unbelievable and a life changer for us. Bigger owners are backing me and it’s helped me financially and helped my children. It’s been fantastic.”
He added: “Now with the coverage that it’s getting in the States with NBC, it’s growing in popularity. Some of the other bigger American trainers are thinking about it – Bob Baffert is one trainer who has spoken to me a few times to get a feel of what it’s about and I think a few more will come over in the future.”
In the meantime, Ward hasn’t ruled out maintaining a greater European presence beyond Ascot.
“We’ll have to see how they run next week,” he said. “But for the most part, the races for these horses are here because they are grass two-year-olds and Campanelle is a sprint grass filly. There’s just not a lot for them in the States.
“I like to see them myself at home and in the past, I’ve brought them back home. But it’s hard to go back and forth. So we’ll see how the races go and it could be that we keep a string here and have a bigger presence.”