Wesley Ward remains confident the real Golden Pal will show up for a fascinating international clash in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
The betting for the five-furlong showpiece is dominated by the raiding party, with American speedball Golden Pal and multiple Group One-winning Australian sprinter Nature Strip disputing favouritism.
Golden Pal needs no introduction as a dual Breeders’ Cup winner, but he has yet to replicate that form on foreign soil – finishing a close second in the Norfolk Stakes at the Royal meeting two years ago before disappointing in the Nunthorpe at York last year.
The Uncle Mo colt looked better than ever on his four-year-old debut at Keeneland in early April, and Ward – who won the 2017 King’s Stand with Lady Aurelia – feels Golden Pal is peaking at the right time ahead of his bid to make it third time lucky in Britain.
He said: “We’re all set. Golden Pal is really good. He trained at Ascot this (Monday) morning and it was beautiful – everything went great.
“There shouldn’t be any hiccups or issues – he’s wonderful right now.
“Of all the winners I’ve ever had here, this is the fastest. I don’t know anything about the Australian horse other than he’s nearly eight years old, so I don’t know how that’ll go.
“My horse is four and the fastest I’ve ever had. I haven’t seen the Australian horse race and I really don’t need to study it, I just want my horse to be the way he is today and that’s it.”
Golden Pal will be partnered by Irad Ortiz Jr, who has won multiple Group Ones in America and will be making his Royal Ascot debut.
While Ward will walk the track with the Puerto Rican – who won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal at the weekend – on Tuesday morning, he is not planning to get too bogged down in tactics.
He added: “It’s five eighths of a mile on a straight course. He’s a fast horse, so he’s going to break like he always does and we’ll just try not to go too fast early.
“Whether it was Irad or Frankie Dettori or Lester Piggott on this horse, it’s just a question of easing him back after the break and for the first three eighths you just want to go as easy as possible because whoever is going to be up there with him is going to pay the price.
“When it comes down to the last little bit, you wait until you see the whites of their eyes and away you go – it doesn’t take a lot of thinking.
“The thing about bringing Irad over here to ride this particular horse is he knows the horse very, very well and the horse responds well to him – they’re undefeated.
“I’ll walk the course with him in the morning and tell him what I’ve learned over the years coming here and after that you’ve just got to be patient and may the best horse win.”
It is 19 years since Choisir became the first Australian-trained winner of the King’s Stand – a victory which opened the floodgates for the antipodean challengers, with Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007) and Scenic Blast (2009) all striking gold since.
Nature Strip has won 20 of his 37 races for Chris Waller, including eight Group Ones, and the trainer has been delighted with his condition since travelling to England.
“He’s really matured into a fool-proof horse,” said Waller.
“He was a little bit hit and miss in his early career because he used to charge and race very fiercely. He used to break the hearts of his competitors, but he’d break his own heart occasionally as well and go too quick.
“Through maturity we’ve harnessed that and he’s now racing more tractably, which I think is important because 1,000 metres might not sound like a long way but we’ve found that if you want to go flat out the whole way, you’ll come undone.
“It sounds like he’s (Golden Pal) really quick. I am only really focusing on our horses while also respecting the fact that it is going to be a full field.
“I am sure the English, French and Irish will have a few hidden cards as well. I doubt Golden Pal will have been under the pressure he is about to be under, with the same applying to our horses as well. These races make champions and talking points.”
Nature Strip is one of two horses Waller plans to saddle at the Royal meeting, with stablemate Home Affairs a leading contender for the Platinum Jubilee on Saturday.
He added: “It’s always hard when you’re coming to the complete other side of the world, but Nature Strip and Home Affairs are good straight-track horses, so they only need to replicate their Australian form and they’re capable of fighting out the finish with the best in the world.”
Two of the leading hopes for the home team are King’s Lynn and Twilight Calls, who were split by just a head when first and second in the Temple Stakes at Haydock last month.
The Andrew Balding-trained King’s Lynn carries the colours of the Queen and connections are not ruling out running in the King’s Stand and the Platinum Jubilee this week.
The Queen’s racing manager, John Warren, said on Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “King’s Lynn has the constitution to be able to back up. If he runs well and Andrew is 100 per cent happy with him we might given him another turnaround, it’s very possible.
“He’s been primed specifically, he won his Group Two last time very well and ratings-wise he’s in the shake up.”
Charlie Appleby saddles both Man Of Promise, who was last seen finishing third in the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan, and Lazuli, who has been off the track since winning at the Dubai Carnival in February.
“Man Of Promise is a horse that as we know he runs well fresh first and foremost. so that’s a key tick in the box for him,” the trainer told the Godolphin website.
“Coming back to the stiff five at Ascot is going to suit him. He went off favourite in the Al Quoz but he didn’t disgrace himself and that was a competitive event. He’s a good solid horse and I feel the track and trip will suit him.
“Lazuli has had this as a target since he won the Blue Point Sprint and he has a lot of natural pace. He’s a good, old-fashioned sprinter with a big back end on him.
“He’s taking on the young pretenders and it’s going to be a great watch with all the internationals so there’ll be a lot of pace on.”