Royal Ascot’s favourite adopted son, Wesley Ward, has set his sights on Thursday’s Norfolk Stakes, the G2 for 2-year-olds that provides the third Breeders’ Cup Challenge ‘Win and You’re In’ contest at this year’s royal meeting.
The £100,000 ($125,000) contest offers a fees-paid berth to the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, set to be run for the second time at Santa Anita on ‘Future Stars Friday’, featuring the five Breeders’ Cup races for 2-year-olds on November 1.
With ten winners in ten years since his debut in 2009, Ward’s formidable record has become the stuff of Royal Ascot folklore. He has won the Norfolk Stakes twice, in 2013 with subsequent G1 winner No Nay Never – runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint as a 3-year-old – and last year with Shang Shang Shang, who was scratched from the inaugural Juvenile Turf Sprint in the week of the race owing to the softish turf at Churchill Downs.
Ward’s contender this time is Maven, the first offspring of American Pharoah to win in North America when he won on dirt at Aqueduct in April, going wire-to-wire before scoring by a cosy-looking half-length. The Beyer speed figure came out quite high, the first two finished well clear and runner-up Lebda was a subsequent winner at Laurel.
Maven, who will be ridden by Preakness Stakes winner Tyler Gaffalione, who is due to ride two of Ward’s runners on Wednesday, was bred by Ward himself out of a dam whom he trained to score at a decent level in turf stakes as a juvenile.
Ireland looks sure to field a strong hand in the Norfolk, led by Sunday Sovereign (Paddy Twomey/Billy Lee), who was bought by King Power Racing before a runaway seven-length victory on soft ground at Tipperary. A Racing Post Rating of 103 for that display is the best on offer here.
Joseph O’Brien saddles Qatar Racing’s Air Force Jet, expected to come on for a narrow Navan maiden success. O’Brien’s father Aidan’s previous winners of this race include Johannesburg, who went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on dirt after taking the Norfolk in 2001; he runs Cork maiden victor Mount Fuji (Ryan Moore) and King Neptune (Donnacha O’Brien).
Matthieu Pallussiere, who saddled Different League to a surprise 20/1 victory for France two seasons ago in the Albany Stakes, has high hopes of a second Royal Ascot triumph with Real Appeal, who looked good in first-time blinkers last month winning a listed race at Maisons-Laffitte. He sold for £265,000 at the Goffs London Sale on Monday, where Maven was unsold at a reserve of £725,000.
Last year’s winner Shang Shang Shang may not have run in the Juvenile Turf Sprint but Pocket Dynamo, the horse she touched off, did make it to Churchill Downs, where he was ninth behind all-the-way winner Bulletin.
Chelsea Cloisters, So Perfect and Queen Of Bermuda – who finished second, third and fourth at Churchill Downs – all ran at Royal Ascot. The Ward-trained Chelsea Cloisters was a beaten favourite in the Queen Mary, where So Perfect was fourth, while Queen Of Bermuda was a disappointing favourite behind Soldier’s Call (sixth in the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint) in the Windsor Castle Stakes.
As part of the benefits from the Challenge series, Breeders’ Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the two-day event at Santa Anita on November 1-2.
The next ‘Win and You’re In’ contest after Royal Ascot for the Juvenile Turf Sprint is the Darley Prix Morny at Deauville on August 18.