Watch Nick Luck's feature interview with Wesley Ward as Lady Aurelia lines up a third win at Royal Ascot in the King's Stand Stakes on Tuesday. Catch-up with Harlan Malter's interview with Tom Stanley, the owner of fellow American challenger Bucchero, and read our preview of the big sprint.
Wesley Ward hopes for a “great race” between last year’s winner Lady Aurelia and the new kid on the sprinting block in Battaash in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
Lady Aurelia is seeking a rare hat-trick of Royal Ascot wins, having put up two mesmerising performances here in the past two seasons.
She won a weak Queen Mary by seven lengths two seasons ago, and built on that performance by slamming a well-credentialed field of Group One sprinters by three lengths 12 months ago.
That run was extra special as she emerged from gate 18 of 18, but since then she has not got her head in front in three starts.
Ward reports, however, that the four-year-old daughter of deceased sire Scat Daddy is back on track, despite suffering a defeat in April in the same prep race she won last year at Keeneland.
"Her last few works have been very, very good. She’s an older mare and came in to this year heavier and maybe even a little taller – she’s still growing," he said.
Watch Lady Aurelia's King's Stand win 12 months ago
"She was beaten in her prep – she was second, but ran a really good race to be second. She went in to the race a little bit bulkier, than she was last year. It really just tightened her down. We gave her some time, and she built that weight back up and she even got a little chubby on us. Her last few works have really been eye-openers. If you look at her now she has dappled out and looks really big."
The five-furlong contest appears to be Lady Aurelia's toughest task to date, as she is carrying 5lb more than 12 months ago. John Velazquez will once again be in the saddle, having been drafted in on the morning of the race last year after Frankie Dettori failed to recover from an injury. She will break from stall seven.
“She’s bucking and kicking, which is just what you want to see as she’ll need to be every bit as good as she ever was to get the job done again,” Ward said.
“She loves it here and she thrives here. She’s doing great.
“This is horse racing. She’s a bit older than Battaash, who is a gelding. It should be a great race and that’s what racing is all about.”
We'll try to go down nice and quiet and go down last, like he did at Chantilly and Haydock Charlie Hills is hoping to keep Battaash quiet
The Charlie Hills stable is not in the best of form, having sent out just one winner from 39 runners in the past fortnight but the Lambourn trainer knows a good sprinter when he gets his hands on one.
Hills has already had one top-class sprinter through his hands in his short career in Muhaarar and now has another with Battaash, whose only disappointment last year came when he boiled over in the Nunthorpe Stakes.
His victory in the Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly in October marked him down as an exceptional prospect and his return in the Temple Stakes showed he at least retained all of his ability.
Battaash will have to negotiate the long walk from Ascot's stables, cross Ascot High Street and then go from pre-parade ring to parade ring among the hullabaloo of the royal meeting but plans are in place to prevent a repeat of what happened at York.
“We’re very pleased with him. He had to do it the hard way at Haydock and probably just got a little bit tired in the last 50 yards,” Hills said of his comeback win.
“He had a nice quiet week after that and seems to have freshened up nicely.
“We’ll try to go down nice and quiet and go down last, like he did at Chantilly and Haydock.”
Lady Aurelia heads the betting at a best-priced 2-1, with main rival Battaash no bigger than 5-2, while the in-form Chalie Appleby stable field Blue Point, who is 8-1.
Appleby drops Blue Point in trip after he cut no ice in Hong Kong when he was last seen. He was a good third in the Commonwealth Cup last season, and broke the track record when beating Harry Angel here last May when posting 1m.11.05s.
“Dropping back to five furlongs will be within Blue Point’s compass, I think. He was disappointing in Hong Kong, where we tried to take them on at their own game and race up on the pace, which didn’t work,” said Appleby.
“He had a bit of a torrid journey home as well, so he had a nice break since then and the last two weeks I couldn’t have been any happier with him. He really is pleasing us.”
He added: “Blue Point seems to love Ascot – he has won two races there and was third in the Commonwealth, so it is a course and a track that he is very comfortable at. Coming back to five furlongs will also suit him as they will go hard up front and he will come into the race at the right time.”
Lady Aurelia is not the only American sprinter in the line-up. Tim Glyshaw has brought Bucchero over from America and the long-distance journey has had no ill effect.
Bucchero advertised his ability when fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, and his back story in which his dam was found to be near-death is one that will go down in the annals of the royal meeting should he prevail.
With American sprinters such as Lady Aurelia and Undrafted both winning at Royal Ascot in the past few years, Glyshaw is upbeat about his chances.
“He is very cool and calm and nothing bothers him. When we shipped him out to the Breeders’ Cup, it didn’t bother him at all, nor did the 100,000 people that were there on Kentucky Oaks day,” he said.
Watch Harlan Malter's interview with Tom Stanley
“His stall speed away from the gate is a little bit slower than it was in his younger years and that has dictated his running style, as he used to go wire to wire whenever he ran.
“I think he’s a really good long shot with a chance of hitting the boards at a big price.”
She's improving with every race and we think a stiff five furlongs at Ascot should really suit her Michael Dods on Mabs Cross
Michael Dods has looked after some smart sprinters in recent years, including dual Nunthorpe winner Mecca’s Angel.
This season Mabs Cross has developed into a very smart filly and she was last seen flashing home into fourth in the Temple Stakes behind Battaash.
“She’s improving with every race and we think a stiff five furlongs at Ascot should really suit her,” said Dods.
“She hit the line really hard at Haydock, and has done in all her races this season, so that uphill climb to the line will be ideal.”
Aidan O’Brien runs Washington DC, Different League, Battle Of Jericho and Declarationofpeace.