LAS VEGAS — Contrary to an increasingly popular belief, American trainer Wesley Ward does not always get his way at Royal Ascot. He was reminded of that Wednesday, both in victory with a long shot and defeat with a favorite.
A stakes winner at Saratoga last summer, Con Te Partiro (20-1 in the U.K., 16-1 in the U.S.) closed strong Wednesday for a one-length victory in the one-mile Sandringham Handicap, a $98,500 listed stakes for 3-year-old fillies. She overtook runner-up Rain Goddess (7-1, 6-1) in the final strides to get the best of 23 rivals. Irish rider Jamie Spencer guided her through the traffic on the grandstand side of the straightaway turf course.
“That was an unbelievable ride,” Ward told ITV right after the race. “I’ve got to give it to Jamie. I don’t want to tell you the horrible names I was calling him the first part of the race wondering what he was doing, but he sure did have the magic at the end. That was crazy.”
It was Ward’s second victory this week and the ninth in his career at Royal Ascot, the five-day festival that is annually the biggest racing event in England and one of Europe’s biggest social occasions.
Earlier, Ward was denied his third straight win in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes. Odds-on favorite Happy Like A Fool (10-11 U.K., 3-5 U.S.) could not hold off the late charge by British maiden winner Heartache (5-1, 5-1), losing by 2½ lengths in the five-furlong turf sprint for 2-year-old fillies.
“The other filly was just a little bit more talented than our filly today,” Ward told reporters. “Hopefully we can turn the tables in the future.”
Ridden by three-time British champion jockey Ryan Moore, Happy Like A Fool raced to the front of the pack that ran to the grandstand side, which turned out to be the best path to victory most of the day. The filly sired by Distorted Humor was finally passed in the final furlong by Heartache, which had been close to the lead throughout the 23-horse race.
“When Ryan came back in, he just said that we got beat by a better filly,” Ward said. “I kind of agree with him.”
Heartache and Happy Like A Fool each had only one previous race. Ten weeks ago Happy Like A Fool won a $60,000 maiden special weight by four lengths on the dirt at Keeneland. Trained by Clive Cox and ridden by Adam Kirby, Heartache won by six lengths late last month in a British race worth a whopping $6,300.
“All these horses are young 2-year-olds, even though mine are more forward,” Ward said. “I do think that this filly is a big filly, and I feel that she will mature into something special in the future.”
Ward said Happy Like A Fool will probably race next in England in the Grade 3 Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood on Aug. 2.
Ward won last year’s Queen Mary with Lady Aurelia, his prized 3-year-old filly that graduated to a Group 1 victory against the boys Tuesday in the King’s Stand Stakes. Ward said she came out of the race healthy and confirmed again that her owners – led by Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables – are aiming her for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
McErin will be the next horse to race for Ward in Thursday’s opener – the five-furlong Group 2 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds. The maiden winner sired by Trappe Shot is already a 5-1 favorite at British books. With Frankie Dettori out because of a hand injury, McErin will be ridden by David Flores, who is flying from California to take the ride.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Highland Reel (9-4 U.K., 2-1 U.S.) showed a lot of grit Wednesday in the richest race of the week. Galloping just off the pace, the 4-year-old Coolmore colt was passed at the top of the stretch before he rallied, took the lead and held on to win the $922,500 Prince of Wales’s Stakes by a length over Decorated Knight (10-1, 11-1) and Ulysses (9-2, 4-1). Trained by 56-time Royal Ascot winner Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Moore, Highland Reel collected his eighth Group/Grade 1 victory, running his career earnings to more than $7.5 million. The top three in the 1¼-mile race were all sired by Galileo.
Two favorites Wednesday came up winners for France. Also taking advantage of the stand-side bias, Qemah (5-2, 2-1) won by a length over long shot Aljazzi (40-1, 58-1) in the one-mile Group 2 Duke of Cambridge for older fillies and mares. Qemah was trained by Jean-Claude Rouget and ridden by Grégory Benoist, the same connections who guided her to win last year at Royal Ascot in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Favored in the opener, Le Brivido (2-1, 9-5) raced in a group down the middle of the course and won the seven-furlong Group 3 Jersey Stakes for 3-year-olds. He finished a neck ahead of Spirit Of Valor (66-1, 74-1) and Mubtasim (20-1, 24-1). It was the ninth Royal Ascot win for French training star André Fabre and jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot.
The stand side also worked for Zhui Feng (25-1, 16-1), the Irish-bred 4-year-old colt that defeated 28 rivals in the one-mile Royal Hunt Cup handicap.