In the horse trainer word association game, Wesley Ward’s name usually associates with his wondrous work training 2-year-olds. That is, when it’s not associated with being the American in England – the primary American presence at the yearly Royal Ascot meet.

Kimari-Royal Ascot
Four times in her six-race career, Kimari prompted jockey celebrations like this one from Channing Hill in April. The star sprinter goes for her first Royal Ascot victory in Friday’s Commonwealth Cup. (Image: Coady Photography)

Due to the coronavirus Ward remains in the US this year. His Royal Ascot presence, however, is strong as ever – especially with Kimari headlining Ward’s 10-horse Royal Ascot contingent this year. The fleet filly — the co-third favorite at 8/1 — will take on the boys in Friday’s Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, the lone Group 1 race on Friday’s seven-race card.

Royal Ascot

Friday, June 19

  • 5:15 a.m. PT — The Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes
  • 5:50 a.m. PT — The Albany Stakes (G3)
  • 6:25 a.m. PT — The Norfolk Stakes (G2) — Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series (Juvenile Turf Sprint)
  • 7 a.m. PT — The Hardwicke Stakes (G2)
  • 7:35 a.m. PT — The Commonwealth Cup (G1)
  • 8:10 a.m. PT — The Queen’s Vase (G2)
  • 8:40 a.m. PT — The Duke of Edinburgh Stakes (Handicap)

The 3-year-old Kimari is an outlier in Ward’s juvenile-heavy string, but he has one of his 2-year-old mainstays – 8/1 offering Golden Pal — set for the five-furlong Group 2 Norfolk Stakes. That doubles as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint this fall at Keeneland.

Two of Ward’s 10 Royal Ascot victories came in the Norfolk Stakes: No Nay Never (2013) and the filly Shang Shang Shang in 2018. No Nay Never set the juvenile track record that day.

In Absentia, The Queen Visits the Winner’s Circle

On Tuesday, Tactical didn’t set a track record. He did, however, give Queen Elizabeth II her 24th Royal Ascot winner when the 7/2 favorite captured the aptly named Windsor Castle Stakes. John Warren, the Queen’s racing manager, told The Guardian the Queen took extra pleasure from Tactical’s victory because she bred the horse.

“Every day of her life, the Queen follows racing, one way or another when she can. She would have read the Racing Post in great detail and built up to this week knowing very well the important fancied horses,” Warren said. “When she watches the racing, she’s fully up to date with the horses’ background, who trains them, who’s riding them, and a lot about the horses and the way they’re bred, because that’s her great passion, the breeding.”

Tactical was the Queen’s first Royal Ascot winner since Dartmouth took the 2016 Hardwick Stakes, and her first home-bred Royal Ascot winner since Free Agent won the 2008 Chesham Stakes.

Kimari’s Beat Up On the Boys Before

Ward’s first Royal Ascot victory came in the Windsor Castle Stakes when Strike The Tiger roared home at 33/1 in 2009. He knows the turf quite well, and knows Kimari can tangle with the boys. The first of her four career victories came in her April 2019 debut, when she dismantled a maiden special weight field of colts by 15 lengths at Keeneland.

From there, Kimari visited winners’ circles at Saratoga, Keeneland, and Oaklawn Park – all in listed stakes. The latter came in her 3-year-old debut in April, when she sprinted to victory in the Purple Martin Stakes in the Oaklawn slop. So yes, Kimari wins on turf and she wins on dirt – both fast and sloppy.

Those account for four of Kimari’s six career races. The other two go into the unfinished-business file. Last year at Royal Ascot, Kimari ran second by a nose to Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary Stakes. Making the loss more agonizing was the fact Frankie Dettori – Ward’s regular go-to rider at Ascot – piloted Raffle Prize.

Ward told reporters that Dettori made the difference last year. He rectified that oversight this year, enlisting Dettori’s considerable services for Friday’s race.

She’s Even Fast in Defeat

The only time Kimari missed the board came at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, when she finished fourth. But Kimari turned in the fastest final-furlong time in the five-furlong race, basically running out of racetrack. Even finishing fourth, her 105 Equibase Speed Figure tied her career-best number.

The six-furlong Commonwealth Cup should be the perfect distance for her, and it should prepare her nicely for Ward’s ultimate 2020 prize, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“She’s shown she’s very versatile,” Ward told The Guardian. “At Ascot last year, it was raining heavily and she put up a big performance, but she enjoyed firm ground as well at Saratoga. She’s sound and ready to go.”

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