Wesley Ward is an iconic name to look out for at the Royal meeting, always bringing a strong team of runners over to Ascot for the five days of superb flat racing and this season will be his 11th in a row.
After changing what we knew at Royal Ascot a decade ago, the American trainer is as excited and determined as ever to get his name on the winners board again and add to his impressive tally of winners at the prestigious meeting.
10 years ago the Washington born handler for the first time sent a small team of runners the Lambourn track to make a bold statement and that he did, landing a winner on his first saddling of a runner at Royal Ascot.
Ward landed the Windsor Castle Stakes in great style with Strike The Tiger to become the first ever American based trainer to win a race at the Royal meeting, creating History that he has consistently over the years tried to add to.
(Credit At The Races) Ward said: “It’s hard to believe it’s 10 years ago. The hairs are a little greyer now, but the time just flies by.
“Going over that first year we were hopeful we had good chances, but we were going into the unknown – it was like going into the twilight zone.
“I’d heard about Royal Ascot, but I’d never been and really knew very little about it. It was so far removed from anything we’d done before.
“I just remember looking at the two-year-old races and thinking, ‘two-year-old races in early June – this could really suit us’. I have my horses ready to go early and I thought, ‘let’s give it a go’.”
Strike The Tiger was a very unexpected winner of the race going off a odds of 33/1 and proving the field wrong, setting the pace and was not for catching by anyone with the juvenile landing the spoils by half a length.
The trainer added: “I didn’t see most of the race. I couldn’t find a place to stand, and when you don’t know Ascot it’s pretty easy to get lost.
“I just remember looking up and seeing him come home in front – and obviously the excitement was there, to train a winner at Royal Ascot.”
Ward doubled his tally fairly sharpish when Jealous Again smashed the field in the Queen Mary Stakes just one day after his first ever winner at the festival but since that victory he had to wait until 2013 before he could celebrate again and he states that he never took any of his success for granted.
"To come back the following day and have another winner showed it wasn’t a fluke, which was great – but I’ve been involved in this game for long enough to know nothing is easy,” he said.
“I think we’ve learned over the years you first of all need to bring a very sound two-year-old, which is tough to do for starters, and you need that precociousness and obviously ability.
“Every year we just try to omit the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and you learn something new every day.
“You can’t ever think you know it all. Just when you think you have it figured out, horses have a habit of popping you right on the nose!”
Wesley Ward has an impressive 10 winners across his 10 years of coming to Royal Ascot but he is always looking to add more and not reflect on the past but it is so hard when some of his superstar victors have been such special horses.
Lady Aurelia is a stand out memory for the American trainer when she landed the he 2016 Queen Mary and the 2017 King’s Stand to write her name into Royal Ascot folklore.
However, Ward's favourite memory comes from the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee winner of 2015 with Undrafted being his highlight of his remarkable 10 years of bringing his horses to the Summertime showpiece.
Ward said: “Undrafted’s win was the top, for sure. For him to win a Group One on a big stage under Frankie Dettori, and for the Queen to present me with the trophy with all my family there – it was a day I will cherish for the rest of my life, as will my family.
“The horse is nine now, he’s still racing and has earned over $1.5million. Wes (Welker) is such a great guy who leaves it to me, and it’s almost like I own him myself – apart from he gets all the prize-money, unfortunately!”
The trainers attentions have to now turn to this seasons runners with just one week until the super five day extravaganza and he is hoping that he can get another winner to add to his record.
Lady Pauline was his eye-catcher heading into Royal Ascot but has since picked up an injury that will see the half sister to Lady Aurelia miss out of the festival this year.
However, Ward still has the likes of Nayibeth, Karak, Chili Petin, Foolish Humor, Maven, Kimari and Anna’s Fast with Bound For Nowhere coming back again after finishing third in the Commonwealth Cup last year.
The American said: “I’m very excited about the team. I don’t think I have a Lady Aurelia in there, but as a group they’re very solid.
“They’re all very good two-year-olds who are sound and fit – and when the gates open they’ll be ready to go with no issues.
“They trade places during the morning workouts in terms of which is the best, but I think they’re all very talented.
“If the first one wins, I’ll be going into the rest of the meeting very confident – as long as we get some sunshine.”