News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
WARD LAUNCHES SUCCESSFUL ASSAULT ON ROYAL ASCOT
Many American observers were skeptical when they heard the news that American trainer Wesley Ward would be shipping six horses from the U.S. to compete in England’s Royal Ascot meeting this week. After all, no American-trained horse had ever won at the highly prestigious meeting.
No one is skeptical any longer.
On Tuesday’s opening day of Royal Ascot, Ward gave a leg up to American jockey John Velazquez aboard 2-year-old Strike the Tiger, who was coming off a maiden claiming win at Churchill Downs. Together the pair combined to win the Windsor Castle Stakes at odds of 33-1, defeating 21 other 2-year-olds in the process.
On Thursday, Ward showed the Brits that the Tuesday success was not simply a case of beginner’s luck when he sent out the 2-year-old filly Jealous Again to an impressive wire-to-wire tally in the Group II $147,000 Queen Mary Stakes. John Velazquez was again in the irons for the triumph, by five lengths at odds of 13-2.
It hasn’t all been child’s play for Ward. On Tuesday, he saddled Cannonball to a sixth-place finish in the Group I King’s Stand Stakes, and today Yogaroo could do no better than ninth in the Group II Norfolk Stakes. But Ward is not out of Royal Ascot bullets. Tomorrow he will send out Honor in Peace in the Chesham Stakes, and on Saturday, Cannonball could see action again in the Group I Golden Jubilee Stakes and Aegean, who beat Jealous Again last time out at Churchill Downs, will be a top contender in the Group III Albany Stakes.
“It’s great to prove that you can bring a horse over from America and be competitive here, and I hope this win will open doors,” Ward told Racenews UK. “This is a real international meet and I think trainers at home have been apprehensive about coming over but they will see they can come here, win a here and then go home ready to run. I hope this causes a lot of the better horses to come over.
CHURCHILL TO RACE AT NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME TOMORROW
Following the testing of temporary track lighting fixtures during early morning training hours on Monday and Tuesday, Churchill Downs officials declared the home of the Kentucky Derby ready for tomorrow’s first of three special dates of night racing billed as “Downs After Dark.”
Friday night’s premiere of “Downs After Dark” will mark the first time in the 135-year history of the racetrack that racing will be presented at night under the lights. Other “Downs After Dark” programs are scheduled for Friday, June 26 and Thursday, July 2.
A total of 104 horses have been entered to compete on Friday’s historic 11-race program. First post is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (ET) and the final four races will be run under the stars. Sunset in Louisville is scheduled for 9:09 p.m. with Race 8 to coincide with the end of civil twilight at 9:40 p.m. The final race of the night has an 11:11 p.m. post time.
“Racing is at the core of everything we do at Churchill Downs, and it remains as important to us today as when we first opened our gates in 1875,” said Kevin Flanery, senior vice president of Churchill Downs Incorporated. “But one hundred and thirty-five years changes a lot of things, and as we seek to redefine the racetrack experience and keep our sport relevant for today’s customers, we are excited to offer the night racing experience under the Twin Spires for the very first time.”
A special $100,000 guaranteed pool for the Pick 4 on Races 4-7 highlights the wagering menu. Five allowance and maiden special weight races have been named in honor of horses whose names feature a nighttime theme. They include 1953 Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star, 1878 Kentucky Derby victor Day Star, 1991 Kentucky Oaks heroine Lite Light, 1997 Stephen Foster Handicap champ City by Night and 1958 Clark Handicap conqueror My Night Out.
MOTHER GOOSE SET AS NEXT GOAL FOR RACHEL ALEXANDRA
The connections of Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra have announced that their filly will race next on June 27 in the Grade I, $300,000 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park. For Rachel Alexandra, the 1 1/8-miles dirt race restricted to 3-year-old fillies will be her first test since defeating Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness. The last time Rachel Alexandra competed against 3-year-old fillies, she registered a 20 1/4-length score at the Kentucky Oaks on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
“Rachel is rested, healthy and ready to run,” said co-owner Jess Jackson. “On Monday, she turned in a very strong six furlong work galloping out seven furlongs around the clubhouse turn in 1:24.80.”