Crack American jockey Irad Ortiz Jr is set to make his Royal Ascot debut next week after trainer Wesley Ward confirmed he will ride all five of his intended runners at the showpiece meeting.
The Puerto Rican rider is no stranger to big-race success in the US, enjoying multiple Grade One victories across the country and starring at the Breeders’ Cup in recent years.
Ward, who became the first American trainer to saddle a Royal Ascot winner in 2009, has previously called on the services of Frankie Dettori and John Velazquez in Berkshire, but is putting his faith in Ortiz next week.
“Irad is riding every one,” the trainer said. “Frankie is my man and I love him, but Irad is swinging right now in the States – he’s the hottest rider in America.
“He’s a great kid and rode Acapulco for me a few years back when she finished second in the Nunthorpe at York (in 2015). He’s won all over in America and he’s just a phenomenal rider who rides with extreme patience.
“He’s the man of the moment here in the States, that’s for sure. He’s put a lot of work in for me early in the mornings and he’s so excited to get over to Ascot.”
The big hope for Ward is Golden Pal, who Ortiz who has steered to successive Breeders’ Cup wins and is a hot favourite for the King’ Stand Stakes on Tuesday week.
His stablemate Campanelle is already a dual Royal Ascot winner, having struck gold in the Queen Mary two years ago and claimed the Commonwealth Cup in the stewards’ room last season.
She will bid to make it a hat-trick in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes, with Ward particularly enthused about her chances following her final workout at Keeneland on Sunday morning.
He said: “My work rider, Julio Garcia, has been with me for the last 16 years. He won thousands of race as a jockey before he retired and he rode all the Ascot horses in their last pieces of work.
“He rode Campanelle, she broke behind Kimari and he tracked her all the way over five furlongs.
“He eased out with a furlong to go and it almost looked like Kimari was going to keep rolling on and visually watching I was thinking ‘uh oh, maybe Campanelle doesn’t have it’.
“I was thinking ‘Oh well, Kimari is a very good horse who has finished second twice at Ascot and she’s a Group One winner’. All these thoughts were going through my mind.
“Then all of a sudden Julio moved his knuckles just a shade and within three strides Campanelle made up three lengths – she responded like a lion getting to an antelope.
“It was exactly what we wanted to see. The whole team had smiles on their faces after watching that, which was great to see.”
Another filly returning to Ascot is Ruthin, who disappointed in the Windsor Castle 12 months ago but better is expected in the Palace of Holyroodhouse Stakes.
“She’s a very nice filly who won on her two-year-old debut last year and went over to Ascot for the Windsor Castle. She shot right to the lead and then faded in the last part of the race,” said Ward.
“She came back and won a Listed Stakes race here at Keeneland, so she’s two from three, and I’m hoping she’ll go there and run a big race.”
Ward’s quintet is completed by a pair of two-year-olds in Love Reigns and Seismic Spirit, who are bound for the Queen Mary and Windsor Castle Stakes respectively.
The former made a huge impression on her Keeneland debut and is well fancied to provide her trainer with a fifth Queen Mary success.
Ward added: “She had about the best debut race I’ve ever had here at Keeneland – she won by almost 10 lengths and just scampered away from them.
“The guy that gives the figures here really didn’t want to give her a figure because he was sort of unsure thinking ‘how could she run that fast?’.
“She has had three or four pieces of work since then and all of them have been nice and steady and beautiful breezes. Every horse that kind of engaged her, she just exploded away from them.
“She’s coming over the Queen Mary and we’re really excited about her.”