Connections of some United States-based runners who plan to compete in the Royal Ascot meeting June 20-24 gathered for a news conference June 15 at the historic Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket.
American Patriot aims to be the second successive American-trained winner of the Queen Anne Stakes (G1), run over Ascot's straight mile on the first day of Royal Ascot June 20, following Tepin's victory in 2016.
WinStar Farm's 4-year-old War Front colt is trained by multiple Eclipse Award-winner Todd Pletcher and comes to Royal Ascot off a victory in the April 14 Maker's 46 Mile Stakes (G1T) on the Keeneland turf.
"That was an absolutely amazing win; we were so thrilled," said Ginny DePasquale, assistant trainer to Pletcher. "We did not think he was going to win until the last few strides when he made up a lot of ground. Todd and the owner came up with the Royal Ascot plan after American Patriot ran the way he did, coming from far off the pace, European-style.
"We were 20-1 on the morning line at Keeneland, but we have always thought a lot of this horse from the time he was a 2-year-old. He has still got to prove himself a little bit and we are hoping for the best."
"Winning the Kentucky Derby and then the Belmont Stakes means it has been an amazing six weeks for the stable," she said. "We are hoping American Patriot runs the best he can. Winning at Royal Ascot is very prestigious—the ultimate racing in the world as far as we are concerned—so it would definitely be a feather in our cap.
"This is our second trip to Royal Ascot—we came with two horses six years ago—and we will give it a shot when we have the right horse or horses."
Frankie Dettori is due to ride American Patriot, and the same star jockey will partner with Lady Aurelia in the King's Stand Stakes (G1), also June 20.
Wesley Ward has paved the way for American trainers at Royal Ascot since 2009, when he was successful with 2-year-olds Strike The Tiger in the Windsor Castle Stakes and Jealous Again in the group 2 Queen Mary Stakes. He has amassed a total of seven Royal Ascot victories and has a 10-strong team this year.
The 49-year-old focuses on Royal Ascot from a long way out and rates his very impressive 2016 Queen Mary Stakes winner Lady Aurelia the best of his runners next week. The 3-year-old Scat Daddy filly will remain at five furlongs for the King's Stand.
"Lady Aurelia is a true champion. She is a sweetheart year-round, and when she gets to the track, she puts it all in," Ward said. "Last year she was working better than any 2-year-old I had previously brought over, so I knew I had something special. I expected she would win, but not the dominating performance, which was special."
Lady Aurelia worked at Ascot June 14, as did eight of her stable companions.
"I was a little worried that she did a little too much (Wednesday)," Ward said. "She had a bleed last fall (when she was beaten the only time in her career in last year's group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket). This year she has been perfect, but I have not asked her to do as much as she did yesterday.
"So I was really, really relieved when the vet who scoped her said she was clean. I was really nervous until then, but now I am very confident. She breezed superb, like she trained there every day with her head down. I think she is going to run her 'A' race. I would not bring any of my horses over unless they had good chances in each individual race. Yesterday were their last works before Royal Ascot and the track was perfect for what we wanted to do—and I cannot thank everyone at Ascot enough for helping me."
Ward explained how he now approaches Royal Ascot: "When I first came over for Royal Ascot, it was a bit of an unknown.
"I now have a better education about each individual race and what type of horse that I can bring over to fit them. Although the Coventry Stakes and Albany Stakes are six-furlong races, it takes a miler to win them.
"We start breaking the yearlings in October and they don't have their first breezes until March, but I have a pretty good hold of it, because essentially I don't go to the races in the winter time.
"I am out in the barn all day long with them, centering in on Ascot. Royal Ascot is the focal point of my year. I have been given more and more backing from bigger owners and therefore have a bigger pool of horses to draw from. It was 50 this year."
Unbeaten 3-year-old Bound For Nowhere will go in the Commonwealth Cup (G1). Ward commented: "I matched him with Lady Aurelia prior to her race this year and he was a bit unseasoned, having had just one run at a small track. She was much better in every way.
"He ran shortly after she did and, after the experience of that race, he started to prove to me that he is a very valid foe in every work. In one of the works, he was better. Having seen the talent he has, I think he has a big chance. All Royal Ascot races are tough; you cherish wins for a lifetime."
Of Happy Like A Fool, who runs in the Queen Mary Stakes, Ward said, "She is great—doing super. She had a big work yesterday with Jamie Spencer and came out of that great. It is exciting."
Of Princess Peggy, an Albany Stakes (G3) contender, Ward remarked, "She stepped up her game in yesterday's work. I spoke to her owners and said she was a little bit of an outsider coming into Royal Ascot. She won her only start convincingly and so we decided to come over. But she really stepped up in the work and Ryan Moore said she was absolutely worthy of running."
Ward has McErin in the Norfolk Stakes (G2), and pegged that contender for the race early on.
"I knew from the start that he would be a Norfolk contender," the trainer said. "He has shown a lot of speed in everything he has done at home. He is a compact sprinter-type of horse. He has an all-dirt pedigree, but he has been much better on the grass. I think he has a really big chance."
Coventry Stakes (G2) contender Arawak went in company with McErin and pleased Ward.
"I think he is going to have a big chance. At home he has a longer stride and eventually he is going to be a miler. Yesterday's work was much better than we saw at Keeneland. He took McErin right down to the wire yesterday and I was really happy to see that," Ward said.
Of Elizabeth Darcy and Nootka Sound, runners for the Windsor Castle Stakes, Ward said, "Nootka Sound will go to the lead and Elizabeth Darcy will come from behind, just like in the work yesterday when Elizabeth Darcy caught Nootka Sound right on the wire.
"The other filly, Fairyland, will hopefully be in the Albany Stakes rather than the Queen Mary, but that is up to Coolmore."
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is set to saddle his first runner at Royal Ascot this year, with Long On Value in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1), staged over six furlongs June 24. The 6-year-old put up a career-best effort last time out, when he took the runner-up spot, beaten a nose by The Right Man in the Al Quoz Sprint Sponsored By Azizi Developments (G1) at Meydan Racecourse March 25.
Mott is due to arrive June 20 and was represented at the press conference by his son Riley, who is also his assistant trainer.
"Long On Value's run in Dubai was frustrating, but at the same time also very rewarding, as we went halfway across the world and took on an international field. That gave us the confidence to come to Royal Ascot," Riley Mott said. "We thought his odds in Dubai (66-1 industry price) didn't reflect his chance, as he trained very well into the race and shipped over well.
"The fact that he was able to compete so well in Dubai opened up the door to come here. We thought he would get outrun in the first quarter -mile, as earlier in his career he was running around two turns in the States and laying a bit closer to the pace. When we dropped him back in distance, he has come from behind and that running style seems to suit him. That is not to say he needs to come from off the pace. It is just a case of getting him to settle and make his run."