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.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.
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.
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— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) May 25, 2019
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.
✅By American Pharoah ✅Wesley Ward-trained ✅Targeting Norfolk StakesMaven – one for the Royal @Ascot shortlist? pic.twitter.com/75DlvMavcK — At The Races (@AtTheRaces) April 20, 2019
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
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— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) May 2, 2019