"None of the above - right now."
That's how Wesley Ward answered if he was nervous, excited or watching the weather, 12 days before his annual raid on Royal Ascot.
"I know they're expecting a lot of rain this weekend, which is good, hopefully it gets out of the way of us," Ward said June 2. "Every year, you figure things out. I'm starting to get the shipping down, which ones can go a little early, which ones can go a little later, it's a learning process. When I first went, I just got lucky, and won those races the first year, having that fast ground, all the arrows pointed to my side. Throughout the years, I've found out the negatives. If it rains, we're all in trouble coming from here."
Ward's eight-horse string has settled in at Manton. The heavy lifting is over, now it's just primp and pamper before the five-day festival, the pinnacle for Ward.
"If I had to choose between Royal Ascot or the Breeders' Cup, I'd choose Royal Ascot. If you had to choose, obviously you want to win anything you can, I'd like to win a $4,000 race at Belterra," Ward said. "It's just an amazing place, there are so many American people who don't know what it's about, it's an unbelievable feeling to be there, to win there."
Ward returns with his Royal Ascot winners from last year - Undrafted, winner of the Diamond Jubilee and Acapulco, winner of the Queen Mary before finishing second in the Coolmore Nunthorpe at York in August. Beyond those returnees, Ward comes loaded with his usual arsenal of 2-year-olds.
Ward talked about each.
Create A Dream for the Albany: "She has been there the whole time since she won at Ascot earlier this year. She's right on target. From the onset, she was the best one I had, from the breaking process and the early workouts at Palm Meadows, she was the best. As soon as you start breezing on the grass, you can tell, she was breezing like she was a 4-year-old. Mario Pino worked her, he was throwing her down and she was going in 22 and change, as slow as she could go, just gliding over the grass, we knew she was something special."
Lady Aurelia for the Queen Mary: "It was a bit of a question because I did not break this filly, when I break them, they go on the dirt and the grass, they get a good feel of it, months and months of galloping on the grass. I got her late, it was foreign to her, she got outworked on the grass, I flipped her back to the dirt, she zipped out of there, boom, the light went on before her race at Keeneland. There was a little bit of a question mark about if she would take to the grass. I sent her to Arlington, wow, like scintillating works. I can't see her losing. They are awesome good works on the grass. She breathes different air against her opposition she's working with, she breaks three or four behind them, settles, eases out and widens. It's not like she's widening against horses who are just horses, she's doing against quality horses. You look at the watch and think, 'that can't be.' "
Undrafted in the Diamond Jubilee: "He's a really quirky dude as soon as you take him out of his tobacco barn where he lives at Keeneland. At the Breeders' Cup, he was an eighth of a mile from where he lives, he circled the stall, washed out. Last year, he settled right in at Manton and we get to Ascot early, that really helps him, he gets the nervous jitters out the first day and then settles right in, I hope it's the same this year."
Acapulco in the Commonwealth or King's Stand: "I sat down with Michael Tabor that night at York, he asked if we should push forward to the Breeders' Cup. I said, 'I think we can do it, but any time you're pushing forward to races especially at 2, you're risking injury. What would you rather do, go to Royal Ascot and work backwards?' He said, 'absolutely that's what we want to do.' We ran her in an allowance race at Turfway this winter and believe it or not, she had to run to win, she ran a nine on the sheets, then I backed up, she won her prep at Churchill, she's over there now and settled in. I've planned this since August. Everything's perfect."
Silvertoni in the Windsor Castle: "She's doing good, she's won both her starts, she showed me she likes the grass, she'll work twice at Manton, she should be in great shape."
Big City Dreamin in the Windsor Castle: "She loves the grass, she's a big imposing filly, she won her only start, in the first 2-year-old race at Keeneland, I think she's going to run a big race."
Star Empire in the Coventry: "He won a really nice maiden race at Belmont, he won by six or seven lengths, he's by Foxwedge, an Australian champion sprinter, the owner of Foxwedge sent me three Foxwedge weanlings to my farm in Ocala, just bring them up just how I would bring mine up. I think he's going to be really, really tough."
Red Lodge in the Norfolk: "She broke the track record at Belmont Park. She's going to run against the boys, she'll get a little weight, I like her."
- Originally published in The Irish Field.