‘Undrafted winning the Diamond Jubilee is my favourite memory as a trainer’
Q&A WESLEY WARD
Andrew Wilsher speaks to the leading US trainer and Royal Ascot regular
Wesley Ward has been a prominent figure at Royal Ascot since his debut successes in 2009 with 33-1 shot Strike The Tiger in the Windsor Castle Stakes and Jealous Again’s roaring success in the Queen Mary. The trainer has had a winner at every royal meeting since 2013 and his tally stands at ten – more than some leading domestic trainers. Here, he recounts his first Royal Ascot, his greatest memory and which runners we can look forward to seeing this year. In 2009 you made your Royal Ascot debut and scored at the first time of asking with Strike The Tiger in the Windsor Castle Stakes. How did that feel? At the time I didn’t quite realise what a huge deal it was. Ascot itself was almost foreign to me. I’d heard a little bit about it, but in America at that time it was just a big meeting somewhere in Europe, and most of the regional trainers would only compete nationally in the States. I didn’t really feel the accomplishment until the following day when Jealous Again won the Queen Mary, which was an even bigger achievement. It was then I realised the magnitude of what I had just done. It was my first time at a big meeting in Europe and, looking back, to have two winners is an incredible feeling. How did you go about planning your first trip to Ascot? Well I thought if I was going to do something, I should do it properly. A lot of things can happen in races and I had a lot of horses, so I opted to come over with a high volume to give myself more chances. But trying to convince my partners and owners that we should try it was tough! At first some were reluctant and took some persuasion because of the unknown factor – it was kind of like going into the lion’s den. However, when we started having success at Ascot and they saw what could be done and achieved, it got a lot easier. You mentioned there was an ‘unknown factor’ about Royal Ascot. Has the coverage of the meeting improved in the States since 2009? Oh yeah, a lot. Not only with my success, but because of Mark Casse winning the Queen Anne with Tepin in 2016. Those results contributed to Americans taking notice of what was going on. Now there are plenty of owners, breeders and trainers who want to run a horse there, and every American jockey wants to ride at Royal Ascot. You’ve been a top trainer for a long time, but do you find your knowledge and understanding of the game continues to develop with each trip to Ascot? It’s a learning experience every year and I discover so much each time. I stable at a different yard with a different trainer every time and I’m always asking questions. You learn a lot and every time you travel and race, you open your eyes a lot more to what’s going on. I try to be very receptive to other trainers and their styles of doing things. You can take a little bit from everybody and hopefully improve yourself. Where will you be stabling your horses this year? We’re going to the iconic Manton stables, where Brian Meehan trains. Ollie Sangster has been with me for a couple of years and his family have a long association with the famous estate. We were successful in 2015 with Acapulco winning the Queen Mary and Undrafted scoring in the Diamond Jubilee, so we’re looking forward to getting back there. Lady Pauline, one of our Queen Mary hopes, is already there. We had a glimpse of Lady Pauline last month on trials day when she finished second – what did you make of the performance? There’s always high expectations as Lady Aurelia is her sister and, of course, we were a little disappointed to be beaten at such short odds, but I was very happy with how she took to the race. She was only on the ground a couple of days after a long journey and went right to Ascot. She had to go down to Alabama from Keeneland to travel over, and all of that two days before a big race is a lot to ask of a young two-year-old. John Velazquez said the rails were really crowded in and there were a lot of media cameras taking pictures on both sides. She broke well and he said the closer they got to the finish line he could feel her head coming up and looking at all the media and photographers, and that prohibited her a bit. That’s more or less a jockey excuse because she ran a credible race and came out of it really well, and I’d hate to take anything away from the winner. But we achieved what we were trying to, and that was to get a nice race over the track because otherwise it would have been a long time between her maiden race at the start of April and Ascot, so I needed another race for her. We got everything we wanted from it except the win. How has she progressed since? I’ve been keeping track of her progress via video as she’s been in Manton a while now and she’s been breezing beautifully. It looks like she’s going to be spot on for the Queen Mary. We may have two runners in the race with another nice filly called Kimari, who won by 15 lengths at Keeneland and had a super workout there last Sunday. We’re going to be bringing two very high quality runners to the table, and I think they’ll have a big chance. Who else will you be bringing over? I’m only going to bring one older horse – Bound For Nowhere – and the rest are going to be two-year-olds. In previous years I’ve brought horses over and was more hoping and crossing my fingers they’ll be good enough – although Strike The Tiger was one of those and he was victorious! But now the plan is very much to only bring over horses of sheer quality, those who I think have a big, big chance. It’s more quality than quantity this time. I’ve got a lot of faith and confidence in a filly named Nayibeth, who absolutely flew home at Keeneland and has really shown a lot since. I’ve got her pointed at the Albany Stakes, which looks like a great opportunity. I’ve also got an American Pharoah colt named Maven, and he was the first US two-year-old winner for the sire. He’s been breezing beautifully on the grass so he’s shown an affinity for turf. His dam was a multiple winner on the grass, too, so he could be aimed at the Norfolk Stakes. Sounds like you have quite the line-up of challengers ready to deliver more success. What would you say is your favourite memory of Royal Ascot? I’d have to say Undrafted winning the Diamond Jubilee in 2015 – and that’s my favourite memory ever as a trainer. I’ve won Breeders’ Cups and a lot of different races around the world, but having the Queen of England present the trophy and having all of my family and friends in the winner’s circle with me is a lifelong memory for them as well as me. Something I’ll never forget.