Wesley Ward believes "awesome specimen" Golden Pal can make it third time lucky on UK turf.
The early favourite for the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot has not won either of his starts in the UK. A close runner-up in the 2020 Norfolk Stakes, he was only seventh when prominent in the betting for last year's Nunthorpe at York. Since his trip to England, he has delighted fans with his customary front-running displays. He made a sparkling comeback in the Grade 2 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland on April 9, where he bolted up by almost five lengths.
Ward said: “Golden Pal is doing great, he really is. I have been singing this horse's praises for a couple of years now and the only thing he hasn't done yet is win on your patch (UK). Hopefully, he can get it done! It was a powerful performance from him in the Shakertown – but it was a comeback and I really think his next run is going to be something special. He is a once in a lifetime horse – certainly the best I have ever had – and I think he will stamp that with his performance at Ascot if he runs like I am expecting him to.
“Physically, he is an awesome specimen now and mentally he is really coming into his own. I am just so excited to get him back over there.” Ward feels the four-year-old colt had excuses when last seen on the Knavesmire, with Frankie Dettori in the saddle.
Ward explained: “I am looking at a couple of things from his run at York. Firstly, he ran a big race at Churchill Downs on his comeback last year and that was five weeks beforehand. I know five weeks is a nice gap for you guys but, for me, a longer spacing with sprinters works better. If I come back too quick, it usually stings me as a trainer. A lot of trainers are able to do it but my whole career I have never been able to do something like that.
“The other point is that when Frankie [Dettori] rode him, he did not want to go too fast early. He took a pretty good hold of him in the first part of the race and, although endoscopically there were no abnormalities after, maybe something got a bit displaced and shut his airways down a little bit. A veterinarian would disagree with me, but I am searching for an answer for that race because he went into it really good. Those are the two reasons I think that he did not fire but, other than that, he has fired every start of his life.”
The world's highest-rated sprinter, Nature Strip, is in contention for the Ascot race, with the third best in the standings, Home Affairs. Trained in Australia by Chris Waller, the pair also have the option of the Platinum Jubilee Stakes at the five-day meeting.
Waller’s assistant trainer and racing manager Charlie Duckworth said the horses will do most of their work at home before their long journey over.
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“It is phenomenally exciting for Chris to be entrusted in the training of one champion sprinter but to have two champions in the same year is just incredible," he added. "Then to be in a position to travel to Royal Ascot, especially in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, makes it all the more special."
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