Royal Ascot 2023: Lady Aurelia's son American Rascal tops Ward's hopes

June 18th, 2023

Trainer Wesley Ward makes his annual raid on Royal Ascot with a four-strong team that includes American Rascal (the first foal of a past superstar of this meeting, Lady Aurelia) and Twilight Gleaming. But there are U.S. shippers from other barns as well, including juveniles for Tom Morley and George Weaver along with veteran Classic Causeway for Ken McPeek. Late Thursday afternoon, Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh reported that Big Invasion plans to wheel back from the Jaipur (G1) for the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1).

Let’s look at the two-year-olds before wrapping up with the elders. 

American Rascal, No Nay Mets in Thursday’s Norfolk (G2)

A “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1), Thursday’s Norfolk (G2) is the target for American Rascal, who was a sensational debut winner April 20 at Keeneland. Indeed, the Stonestreet Stables homebred sparked comparisons with Lady Aurelia’s similarly jaw-dropping premiere at the same track and same 4 1/2-furlong trip in 2016.

Unlike the front-running performance by his dam, American Rascal stalked and pounced, rapidly widening his margin from two lengths in mid-stretch to 10 1/4 lengths at the wire. The clock backed up the visual impression, as American Rascal blasted home in :51.21, the fastest time of the meet at the distance and worth a robust 95 Brisnet Speed rating.

That was on dirt, of course, the preferred surface of American Rascal’s sire, Curlin. But the exciting colt’s turf works have filled Ward with confidence that he’s inherited Lady Aurelia’s aptitude for grass. Lady Aurelia herself graduated from her Keeneland triumph to dominate Royal Ascot’s Queen Mary (G2), and then returned to this historic venue in 2017 to beat older males in the King’s Stand (G1).

“I wanted him to work nice and relaxed,” Ward told Keeneland publicity after his May 26 breeze in :50, in company with Royal Ascot-bound stablemate Fandom (:49.60). “Today was an ultra-impressive workout.”

Fandom arguably looked better in the video, but Ward emphasizes that there is a lot more up American Rascal’s sleeve (more on that in the Fandom section below). American Rascal has since posted two additional half-mile moves over the good Keeneland course: a bullet in :49 on June 2 followed by a June 9 breeze in :49.20.

Ward counts two Norfolk wins among his overall tally of 12 at Royal Ascot. Interestingly, Joel Rosario has been aboard both – No Nay Never (2013) and Shang Shang Shang (2018) – and he once again teams up with American Rascal in the five-furlong dash.

No Nay Never is the sire of the George Weaver-trained No Nay Mets, who punched his ticket in the May 13 Royal Palm Juvenile at Gulfstream Park. Owned by the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman, the colt is entered in Monday’s Goffs London Sale, so he could well be sporting a new jersey, so to speak, in the Norfolk.

No Nay Mets was bred by Coolmore in Ireland and purchased for €180,000 as a yearling at Arqana August. The son of Group 3-winning blueblood Etoile was re-offered at OBS in April but failed to sell at a top bid of $335,000.

Although it was a tight turnaround from the sale to join Weaver and make his career debut in the Royal Palm Juvenile, No Nay Mets handled the challenge. The 10.80-1 chance flashed speed and kicked 3 1/2 lengths clear while finishing five furlongs in :57.09.

Frankie Dettori picks up the Norfolk mount on No Nay Mets. The colt signaled his well-being by firing a June 2 bullet over the Oklahoma training turf at Saratoga, covering a half-mile in :48.28 on a firm course – the exact same time as his Queen Mary-bound stablemate Crimson Advocate.

“Luckily, we have Frankie Dettori riding him and, if anybody knows how to ride the course, it is definitely him,” Weaver’s assistant Blair Golen told Ascot publicity. “So I think that is to our advantage. It means everything to have him riding and, if that makes Wesley Ward jealous, then even better!”

Fandom has Coventry (G2) or Windsor Castle option

Representing the same connections as the more ballyhooed American Rascal, Fandom is flying in a bit under the radar. But the sparring partner has credentials as a dominant debut winner on the Keeneland turf.

Ward said something interesting regarding Fandom vis-à-vis American Rascal in the June 12 Breeders’ Cup “Future Stars Forecast” interview with Ren Carothers.

“It’d be hard to separate the two in workouts if you weren’t talking to Julio,” Ward told Carothers, explaining how exercise rider Julio Garcia raves about the latent power of American Rascal.

British-bred Fandom is the latest noteworthy Stonestreet acquisition from a European yearling sale, scouted by advisor Ben McElroy for about $196,000 at Tattersalls last October. By the successful sire Showcasing, Fandom is out of a half-sister to a couple of very smart juvenile fillies – 2022 Cheveley Park (G1) heroine Lezoo and Navassa Island, who just missed in a Group 3 on debut at Naas. Both are expected to run at Royal Ascot Friday, the now-sophomore Lezoo taking on males in the Commonwealth Cup (G1) and Navassa Island in the Albany (G3).

With that background, Fandom logically debuted on turf at Keeneland and bolted up by 6 3/4 lengths. Irad Ortiz Jr., who will maintain the partnership at Royal Ascot, hand-rode the colt through 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.21. Fandom quickened his last sixteenth in :5.94 under no more than a nudge.

At this writing, Fandom has been cross-entered to Tuesday’s Coventry (G2) and Wednesday’s Windsor Castle S. Ward has yet to win the six-furlong Coventry, the most prestigious event for Royal Ascot juveniles that attracts the top prospects from all the big outfits. But he has won the five-furlong Windsor Castle twice, and that would be the higher-percentage play.  

If Fandom lines up in the Windsor Castle, he could meet former stablemate Bledsoe. Bred by Ward, Bledsoe won on debut at Keeneland for his owner/trainer, who then sold him to Ollie Sangster. Bledsoe didn’t scream star quality when registering a 77 Brisnet Speed rating; additionally, he’s by the obscure Medaglia d’Oro stallion Iqbaal. His best talking point is his dam, Grade 2-winning turf sprinter Shrinking Violet, but he’ll be an outsider for his new British yard.

Bundchen, Crimson Advocate, Cynane in Wednesday’s Queen Mary (G2)

Ward has had his greatest success in the Queen Mary, the Norfolk’s counterpart for fillies, with a total of four winners.

Bundchen is his current hope for the five-furlong scramble, a filly with a profile vaguely reminiscent of his 2015 Queen Mary victress, Acapulco. The parallel isn’t exact, but both were beaten as odds-on favorites in their dirt debuts, and thrived on the surface switch at Royal Ascot.

The $700,000 sales topper at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October Yearlings Sale, the Gun Runner filly is out of a full sister to 2015 Belmont Derby (G1) upsetter Force the Pass. Ward intended to start her out on turf, only to have her April 28 maiden transferred to the Keeneland dirt. Bundchen zipped to the lead but got nipped at the wire.

Bundchen’s behavior in her turf work on May 26, in company with Grade 2 hero Arrest Me Red, was uncharacteristic. Ward told Carothers that they discovered the reason: her girth had been tightened up far too much. Bundchen has bounced back from that mishap with a couple of stronger moves, polishing off her home preparation with a half-mile bullet in :48.40 around the dogs June 9. Rosario has the return call for the Queen Mary.

Weaver’s Crimson Advocate has already improved from dirt to turf, earning her way here by taking the Royal Palm Juvenile Fillies. Third in her Keeneland unveiling, the $100,000 daughter of Nyquist added blinkers while changing surfaces at Gulfstream, and the effect was dramatic.

Crimson Advocate scampered to the lead and simply had too much speed for Ward’s odds-on Ocean Mermaid. Faster than Norfolk-bound stablemate No Nay Mets was in his version of the Royal Palm, Crimson Advocate crossed the wire in :56.25.

As mentioned above, Crimson Advocate blitzed a half-mile in :48.28, tying No Nay Mets for the June 2 bullet over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training turf. Hall of Famer John Velazquez takes over the reins on Crimson Advocate, whose dam, Grade 3-placed multiple stakes winner Citizen Advocate, is from the immediate family of champion two-year-old filly Caledonia Road and Wood Memorial (G2) scorer Lord Miles.

British expat Morley is delighted to have a contender in Cynane, who was pegged as a potential Queen Mary type a long while back – as a yearling! Oracle Bloodstock helped source the filly, from the first crop of highly-regarded freshman sire Omaha Beach, for $250,000 at Keeneland September.

“This filly reminds me enormously, physically, of the fillies that Jeremy (Noseda) used to be so successful at buying in America and bringing back to Europe to have a crack at these races,” Morley told Thoroughbred Daily News on May 15.

“This is the model that Jeremy used to buy, so I will have to credit my ex-boss for giving me the idea on what to look for physically on a Queen Mary type.”

Cynane wasted no time in substantiating that idea first time out on May 11 at Belmont Park. Readily taking control early in the five-furlong maiden, she cruised home in :57.61 to become the first winner for Omaha Beach.

Out of an Arch mare from the terrific family of turf star Point of Entry, among others, Cynane has the pedigree to be more than a precocious juvenile.

Twilight Gleaming goes in Tuesday’s King’s Stand (G1)

Runner-up as the favorite in the 2021 Queen Mary, Twilight Gleaming returns at a much bigger price in the King’s Stand over the same five-furlong trip.

The Stonestreet colorbearer, who scored her biggest victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Del Mar, did not attempt Royal Ascot during a relatively quieter sophomore campaign. Although she won two more stakes in 2022, the Mamzelle S. at Churchill Downs and the Daisycutter H. at Del Mar, Twilight Gleaming was all out to hang on at the end of five furlongs. When she stepped up to 5 1/2 furlongs for last fall’s Franklin (G3) at Keeneland, it wasn’t a surprise that she tired to fourth behind next-out Breeders’ Cup star Caravel.

But the four-year-old Twilight Gleaming could have greater capacity, as evidenced by her comeback in the April 15 Giant’s Causeway S. back at Keeneland. A more tactical dimension allowed her to save more energy for the stretch, and she drove to a 1 1/2-length decision. Twilight Gleaming saw out the 5 1/2 furlongs well, clocking a stakes-record 1:01.74.

Even so, Twilight Gleaming will need to up her game in the King’s Stand, between the stiffer course at Ascot and the depth of the competition. Ward’s past winner of this race, the aforementioned Lady Aurelia, had won the Queen Mary that eluded Twilight Gleaming.

Classic Causeway swings for the fences in Prince of Wales’s (G1)

McPeek hasn’t been as familiar a presence at Royal Ascot, but two of his four runners have placed. In 2010, his juveniles Tiz My Time and Casper’s Touch finished third in their events, and Noble’s Promise was a respectable fifth in the St James’s Palace (G1). His last runner, Rosalind, unseated the rider in the 2014 Coronation (G1).

McPeek’s most famous sortie at this track, however, was not at the Royal meeting, but the 2004 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). His Brazilian import Hard Buck, overlooked at 33-1, finished a commendable second to Godolphin’s favored Doyen.

Even in view of his trainer’s history, Classic Causeway looks up against it in a field of proper heavyweights on Wednesday. Hard Buck at least had held his own on the international stage before, with a runner-up effort in the 2004 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night.

Classic Causeway’s claim to turf fame is his wire job in last summer’s Belmont Derby. The 26-1 shot used his tactical speed to surprise respective Godolphin and Ballydoyle hotpots Nations Pride and Stone Age, but his ensuing efforts haven’t caught the imagination.

Perhaps if Classic Causeway had been more aggressive early in the June 3 Arlington (G3) at Churchill, he could have run better than fourth. Still, that’s some way below the standard required here.

Although the son of “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway could try to duplicate his Belmont heroics on the front end, his Prince of Wales’s rivals are much tougher. He’s squaring off against Aidan O’Brien’s vaunted Luxembourg, Godolphin’s 2021 Epsom Derby (G1) winner Adayar, Sir Michael Stoute’s Bay Bridge, the touted My Prospero from the William Haggas yard, and Shadwell dark horse Mostahdaf in what could be the race of the meeting.

Big Invasion for Saturday’s QEII Jubilee

As if the closing-day feature weren’t cosmopolitan enough, with a pair from Australia and one from Hong Kong, Big Invasion is apparently on course to add American flavor to the six-furlong dash now named the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee on Saturday.

The Christophe Clement trainee just raced in the Jaipur (G1) on Belmont Day, where he delivered his customary late charge from well back, if too late to catch Caravel. Big Invasion came up just three-quarters of a length shy of the reigning Turf Sprint queen. But his kick was potent enough to overhaul two-time defending champ Casa Creed.

Between Caravel, who toppled an international cast at Keeneland last fall, and Casa Creed, the near-misser in two straight editions of the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) on Saudi Cup Day, Big Invasion can claim some fine collateral form.

A son of multiple highweight Declaration of War, a 7-1 winner of the 2013 Queen Anne (G1) here for Aidan O’Brien, Big Invasion appeared to be the next big thing in this division stateside in 2022. He rattled off a six-race winning streak, admittedly versus fellow three-year-olds, before winding up a distant third in the Franklin-Simpson (G2) at Kentucky Downs. That smacked of a bridge too far, especially since Clement had sounded inclined to freshen him up after Saratoga rather than press on. He reportedly exited his Kentucky Downs loss with an injury.

Will Big Invasion be able to fire his best shot on a two-week turnaround from Belmont to Royal Ascot? His first three starts of 2023 were all well spaced. After a score in the March 18 Silks Run S. at Gulfstream Park, he was a troubled seventh in the May 6 TwinSpires Turf Sprint (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day, and then came a more representative effort in the Jaipur.

Big Invasion’s running style suggests that he would like a straightaway to gain steam, if he can summon a career-best on this timetable.