Lady Aurelia stays on course for return to Royal Ascot with Keeneland win
Saturday 15 April 2017
Lady Aurelia is on course to try and become the first dual American-trained winner at Royal Ascot after making a winning return in Keeneland on Saturday night.
The Wesley Ward-trained filly, dazzling winner of the Queen Mary last year, warmed up for the royal meeting with a fluent success in the $100,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes over five and a half furlongs at Keeneland.
Betfair, Paddy Power and Skybet all trimmed Lady Aurelia to 7-2 for the King’s Stand. She is quoted between 6-1 and 12-1 for the Commonwealth Cup.
A feature of her performances last season, including when surrendering her unbeaten record in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in the autumn, had been her exuberant catch-me-if-you can nature but on this occasion she settled better and was delivered from off the gallop.
Fifth turning for home, and quite wide, she showed smart acceleration to master a double-figure field including older fillies and mares entering the final furlong. She ran to the line in resolute fashion.
Ward had indicated beforehand that he thought the King’s Stand Stakes, over the minimum trip against older opposition, would be her Royal Ascot target. However, on this evidence the Commonwealth Cup, over six furlongs but against her own age group, also seems a viable option for last year's Prix Morny winner.
“This sets her up perfect [to return to Royal Ascot],” Ward said. "She’s a wonderful filly and has a big future. I’m excited to get back over to England to Ascot. She’ll train right here at Keeneland until we go.
“Lot of credit goes out to (jockey) Julio Garcia, who gets on her and works her every day. Instead of shooting to the front, he gets her to relax. He sits back with her and every time she works, she gets more and more relaxed. I think that’s going to be a big key to where we want to go.
“Our ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. That will be five-eighths on the turf at Del Mar. It should suit her perfect.”
He added: “She did everything great. That is what we wanted to do: get her back, get her to settle and make a run.
“It is a big advantage that she has trained essentially her whole career here. She was settled on a hot day with a big crowd. A lot of fillies might be apprehensive when they ship somewhere but [being home] made a big difference today.”
Winning rider John Velazquez was also delighted.
He said: “She relaxed really well. At the quarter pole, I gave her a little kiss and she was in the battle right away. It was instant.
“I was concerned with that much speed in the race, I didn’t want to get hooked up head to head. I was talking to Wesley earlier today and he was a little worried that he hadn’t taken her to the gate yet, but I said that might be good, if she gets away a little slower without me having to take hold of her.
“Sure enough, she broke a touch slow. The other horses went, I gave her a little tug and she came right back to my hand. She relaxed really well behind horses, and at the quarter pole, when I asked her, she responded right away.”