I happened to call Wesley Ward on Friday, writes Tony Stafford. The California-based Royal Ascot juvenile specialist trainer was typically bullish about having a half-sister of his brilliant Queen Mary/ King’s Stand speedball Lady Aurelia ready to make the trip to the meeting in June.
Indeed, after Lady Pauline’s near 10-length debut Keeneland win on dirt a week before our chat, he is even considering aiming the Munnings filly at the newly-branded Trials Day at Ascot on May 1. A £9,000 winner’s prize for the five-furlong conditions race might not be much of a financial draw but the chance to give this precocious filly a sight of the track is something he is trying to sell to connections.
Wesley was also understandably bullish about No Nay Never, his easy 2013 Norfolk Stakes winner at the meeting. Few horses better illustrate the topsy-turvy world of international bloodstock than No Nay Never, originally sold as a foal at Keeneland for $170,000 on 11/11/11 (any significance there?) but picked up at the same venue the following September for only $95,000.
Since then it’s been a case of an upward course all the way. Ward raced him only six times in all, going unbeaten at two at Keeneland, Ascot and in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville. He stayed in the US at three, winning a Grade 3 at Keeneland in between second places at Gulfstream Park (Grade 2) and in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) when Frankie Dettori joined forces with the trainer.
Dettori, associated with around half of Lady Aurelia’s career, John Velazquez stepping in when the Italian had to miss Ascot in 2017, will be hoping to jump up on Lady Pauline. Lady Aurelia had a similar winning juvenile start as No Nay Never, at Keeneland, Royal Ascot (Queen Mary, by seven lengths!) and the Morny.
No Nay Never’s first-season exploits as a Coolmore stallion were so exceptional that his stud fee for 2019 has been quadrupled to €100,000, from €25,000 last year, and Wesley, who has an interest in the stallion, is understandably delighted that the colt he put on the path to the top has done so well.
There was a non-Coolmore No Nay Never colt on view in the Naas opener on Saturday and it would not have upset Ireland’s premier stud that Ming Warrior, a €75,000 yearling, bred incidentally by Anne-Marie O’Brien and trained by the talented Michael O’Callaghan, could fare no better than second.
The winner, ridden by Ryan Moore, was the Aidan-trained and Coolmore (plus Peter Brant)-owned Monarch Of Egypt, the first son of US Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to make the track. The winning margin for the odds-on chance was close to three lengths.
The name of the game is producing stallions so the fact that American Pharoah was off the bat straight away will have been a source of much joy. Equally the Lads would not have minded that when Highland Chief, Gleneagles’ initial runner, also won on debut at Newbury the previous day, it was in Mrs Fitri Hay’s colours, especially as the Hays are well-established associates of the team.
Highland Chief’s SP of 16-1, despite his being in the care of Paul Cole, one of the all-time skilled handlers of juveniles was a big surprise. I realise it’s a long time ago, but when Cole gets a good horse he exploits its talents to the full. I well remember when he won three major two-year-old races at the 1991 Royal meeting all for the late Prince Fahd Salman. Magic Ring won the Norfolk, Dilum the Coventry and Fair Cop the Chesham. The last-named obviously has no connection with the filly of the same name that runs this afternoon at Windsor for Andrew Balding. She could well win.
Another more than shrewd participant in various areas of the industry is the veteran jockey John Egan, now 50 but well-established as a pin-hooker par excellence as well as father of the brilliant young rider David Egan.
Egan Sr. has been honing the talents of his US-bred pin-hooks, colts by American Pharoah and War Front (this one out of Coolmore notable, Quarter Moon) in preparation for this week’s Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up and his investments of respectively $350,000 and $400,000 could well be lavishly repaid, with many of the big hitters expected to be around.
He was justifiably thrilled that Monarch Of Egypt has already made it to the track, emphasising a potential precocity in the breed, a remark that goes too for the progeny of Gleneagles when they turn up at Breeze-Up sales this spring and early summer.
There was a nice result in the Coral Scottish National on Saturday when the Nicky Richards-trained Takingrisks won the £122,000 first prize under Sean Quinlan by four lengths from Crosspark. Before the race Richards had pointed out that his 10-year-old had form on good ground – even though his preceding win at Carlisle had been on heavy! – and that he would get the four-mile trip.
With five non-runners from the original 28-horse acceptance because of the fast surface, it was something of a surprise that Takingrisks started at as big a price as he did, and for the last mile of the marathon he was always going like the probable winner.
Richards afterwards spoke emotionally about the fact that there are trainers in the north of England perfectly capable of competing with their relatively better-off southern counterparts and with some pride that Takingrisks’ owner, Frank Bird, is based down the road from Richards’ Greystoke stables in Cumbria.
I do a daily early-morning job (needs must!) compiling the thoughts of around a dozen trainers on a web site and Nicky is one of them. Apart from being unbelievably frank and accurate about his horses, he can come up with the funniest remarks. I could not have been happier when Takingrisks won, although I must admit to having a small each-way bet while at Newbury on seventh-placed 40-1 shot Red Infantry. Hill’s paid each-way first six. Plus ca change! (sorry no cedilla!)
To give an illustration of Richards’ frankness, I recall his comments about Glinger Flame before that horse’s recent handicap debut at Hexham. The horse had been beaten a couple of times when “expected” for decent novices while appearing not to go through fully with his effort. Nicky said “I never like to call a horse ungenuine…” leaving little doubt that he feared internally he might be.
Different tactics were employed, along with first-time cheek-pieces, in an attempt to find the key and Glinger Flame won by 18 lengths. Wisely Nicky is not letting him back into another handicap, for which he would be 16lb higher after that romp, but instead allows him to carry a penalty in the opener there today. Wise indeed. No wonder he’s long odds-on despite the 13-runner field.
- Tony Stafford