Waller and Ward stars headline strong overseas challenge for Royal Ascot
Entries from nine countries have today been unveiled for the eight Group One races at Royal Ascot, headlined by the world’s three highest rated sprinters: Nature Strip (Chris Waller, Australia, 124), Golden Pal (Wesley Ward, USA, 121) and Home Affairs (Chris Waller, Australia, 120).
The Australian pair, who could clash with Golden Pal in the King’s Stand Stakes or run in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes, are joined by compatriot Artorius (Anthony & Sam Freedman) who is set to run on the final day of the meeting.
Last year’s Everest winner Nature Strip has a formidable CV comprising eight Group One victories and looked as good as ever on his latest start as he posted a stunning success in the G1 T J Smith Stakes at Randwick on 2nd April.
Home Affairs is the new kid on the block and had the measure of his stable-mate in the G1 Lightning Stakes at Flemington in February, when the pair were separated by a short-head in a thrilling finish.
The Lightning Stakes has been a key stepping-stone for Australia’s five Royal Ascot winners, with Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast and Black Caviar all winning the five-furlong highlight.
Waller’s assistant trainer and racing manager Charlie Duckworth said: “We have nominated both Nature Strip and Home Affairs for the King’s Stand Stakes and the Platinum Jubilee Stakes. This is to keep our options open as anything can happen with horses but we should have an exciting Royal Meeting, that is for sure.
“It is phenomenally exciting for Chris to be entrusted in the training of one champion sprinter but to have two champions in the same year is just incredible. Then to be in a position to travel to Royal Ascot, especially in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, makes it all the more special.
“Nature Strip really etched his name in the history books when winning his third T J Smith Stakes, which brought his total prize money up to AUS$18m. He is a champion year in, year out, and most importantly doesn’t seem to be slowing down despite his age.
“Home Affairs was terrific in winning the Lightning Stakes – and doing it against the older horses proves that he is a weight-for-age sprinter and not just the best in his age group. He is a fantastic son of I Am Invincible and will no doubt do a wonderful job at stud. I believe he is good enough to really test the European sprinters and make himself into a dual hemisphere stallion.
“Nature Strip has just come back into the stable after a short break following a busy racing preparation while Home Affairs is back in work and going well. The plan is for both horses to do the majority of their work on home soil prior to travelling to England.”
The Australian stars are on a collision course with the cream of the sprinting crop from the USA, with Wesley Ward’s customary raiding party spearheaded by Golden Pal in the King’s Stand Stakes.
Golden Pal had several European raiders in behind when dominating from the front in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November and the four-year-old made a sparkling comeback in the G2 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland on 9th April, bolting up by almost five lengths.
Ward said: “Golden Pal is doing great, he really is. I have been singing this horse’s praises for a couple of years now and the only thing he hasn’t done yet is win on your patch. Hopefully, he can get it done!
“It was a powerful performance from him in the Shakertown – but it was a comeback and I really think his next run is going to be something special. He is a once in a lifetime horse – certainly the best I have ever had – and I think he will stamp that with his performance at Ascot if he runs like I am expecting him to.
“Physically, he is an awesome specimen now and mentally he is really coming into his own. I am just so excited to get him back over there.”
Golden Pal’s only defeat since a near miss at this meeting as a two-year-old came in last season’s G1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York, when he finished seventh behind Winter Power, much to his trainer’s bemusement.
Ward explained: “I am looking at a couple of things from his run at York. Firstly, he ran a big race at Churchill Downs on his comeback last year and that was five weeks beforehand. I know five weeks is a nice gap for you guys but, for me, a longer spacing with sprinters works better. If I come back too quick, it usually stings me as a trainer. A lot of trainers are able to do it but my whole career I have never been able to do something like that.
“The other point is that when Frankie [Dettori] rode him, he did not want to go too fast early. He took a pretty good hold of him in the first part of the race and, although endoscopically there were no abnormalities after, maybe something got a bit displaced and shut his airways down a little bit. A veterinarian would disagree with me, but I am searching for an answer for that race because he went into it really good. Those are the two reasons I think that he did not fire but, other than that, he has fired every start of his life.”
Platinum Jubilee Stakes contender Campanelle will bid to join a select group of horses to have won three different Royal Ascot races in successive years. The four-year-old captured the G2 Queen Mary Stakes in 2020 and last year was second past the post in the G1 Commonwealth Cup before the placings were reversed due to interference.
Ward said: “Barbara Banke [owner] and her team are so excited to get Campanelle back over there. She had a strong performance on her comeback win at Keeneland the other day. If you watch that race against some of the fastest fillies in the country, what she did was pretty impressive.
“Between her and Golden Pal, I think we are going in with some big chances. They are running in races that I have won before and I really feel this pair are coming into their respective races as good, if not better, than my previous winners.”
Of Ward’s 12 Royal Ascot winners to date, eight have come in two-year-old races, and the trainer is hoping to bring another strong team of juveniles this year.
He said: “We have our first grass maidens for two-year-olds in the US at Keeneland this week. Then there are maidens at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park as well. I will have runners across those races and how they get on will determine who travels.”
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes will take shape over the next couple of months on the domestic front but could be the European starting point for last year’s G1 Juddmonte International winner Mishriff (UK, John & Thady Gosden).
In wait will be the star Japanese G1 Dubai Sheema Classic winner, Shahryar (Hideaki Fujiwara), who with a 120 rating is the highest rated Japanese horse to have run this year. He is set to be joined on the trip from Japan by Grenadier Guards (Mitsumasa Nakauchida), who could add further international intrigue to the Platinum Jubilee Stakes.
Hideaki Fujiwara, trainer of Shahryar, said: “It is a great honour for me to have a runner at Royal Ascot in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year.
“I discussed with the owner [Sunday Racing Co Ltd] about future plans after Shahryar won the Dubai Sheema Classic and we agreed that the next target for Shahryar must be the races with the highest profile in the world.
“I believe the Prince of Wales’s Stakes is the ideal spot for the horse.”
Group One-winning miler Grenadier Guards is unexposed over sprint distances. The Frankel colt stormed home to take the seven-furlong G2 Hanshin Cup in December and was not beaten far in the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen over six furlongs at Chukyo in March.
His trainer Mitsu Nakauchida said: “Royal Ascot is, no doubt, the most prestigious race meeting in the world and it is a great honour to send a runner there from my stable. And it is the ultimate happiness to be a part of Royal Ascot in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year.”
There are 16 entries for the USA at today’s Group One entry stage, with Ward set to be joined by fellow regular Graham Motion on the trip (Spendarella, Coronation Stakes & Sy Dog, St James’s Palace Stakes) along with Brad Cox (Caravel, King’s Stand Stakes and Commonwealth Cup options) and Christophe Clement, who is responsible for last year’s star filly, Pizza Bianca, entered for the Coronation Stakes, owned by celebrity chef, Bobby Flay.
Pizza Bianca won last year’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf in great style and that race is working out particularly well. Clement also has Slipstream, Derrynane and Big Invasion entered for the Commonwealth Cup.
Clement said: “All options are open for Pizza Bianca after her second at Aqueduct last weekend. I am yet to have a discussion with the owner and suspect we will make a decision in the next two or three weeks.
“I thought she ran a good race at Aqueduct, although it was a shame she got beaten. The race was a little bit against us but the filly who won [Consumer Spending] is a very nice filly. They both finished the race very willingly and our filly has come out of it in great shape.
“We have a great programme here now for three-year-old fillies on the grass, in particular the New York Triple Crown. I am very happy to keep her here for that but if the owner wants to go to Ascot, then I am very happy to do that as well if we think she will be competitive.
“There is another stakes race in four weeks at Pimlico that she could go for and then from there you can go to Ascot. The filly will tell us what she wants to do but at the moment all options are wide open.
“Slipstream is very much on course for the Commonwealth Cup. He won a stakes race impressively at Keeneland in April and I don’t think I will run him back before Ascot.
“This horse has a very good mind and goes on any ground. He is very mature as well having been a good two-year-old last year. I think he is a good horse.
“I have also nominated a very fast filly called Derrynane. She is top-class but needs the ground on the firmer side. Similarly with Pizza Bianca, there is a stakes race for her here in late May and we may go there before deciding about the Commonwealth Cup.
“Both Slipstream and Derrynane have been competing with Wesley Ward horses who will be coming to Royal Ascot, so the form is very good, and any time they have been beaten, there have been excuses.”
Canada could be represented at Royal Ascot this year courtesy of Shirl’s Speight (Roger Attfield, Queen Anne Stakes), who was a dramatic last-gasp winner of the recent G1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland, where many of the North American entries have been running this Spring.
Nick Smith, Director of Racing and Public Affairs at Ascot Racecourse, said:
“Whilst early days still, it’s encouraging and very pleasing to see such a wide range of horses from nine countries entered for Royal Ascot today.
“The sprinters speak for themselves and it will be fantastic to have the Australians back at Royal Ascot this year. A clash between Nature Strip and Golden Pal would be mouth-watering – probably the highlight of the week in a true international showdown of the heavyweights.
“Japanese racing has been the story of the season so far, stretching back to the Breeders’ Cup in fact. It will be fascinating to see whether that can continue at Royal Ascot but in Shahryar, the best of their horses to have run this year will be here in June.
“The potential American party is remarkable and it’s great to see the range of interest from that part of the world, including Canada, across so many races. It is always particularly exciting to see US-trained Breeders’ Cup winners at Royal Ascot and we hope to see Pizza Bianca and Golden Pal looking to achieve the double.
“The European picture will become clearer over the forthcoming weeks and we’ll learn a lot from Group One contests coming up at Newmarket, Newbury and Epsom. Of course this week we learned that the main target for last year’s leading two-year-old filly, Inspiral, will be the Coronation Stakes and a potential clash with Pizza Bianca.”
Since 2003, 188 runners from outside Europe have competed at Royal Ascot from nine different countries; America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, Bahrain, and the UAE.
All eight Group One races at Royal Ascot are part of the QPICO British Champions Series. Four Royal Ascot contests are part of the Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In Programme – the King’s Stand Stakes, Queen Anne Stakes, Prince of Wales’s Stakes and Norfolk Stakes.