Ward hits pay dirt on new frontier

Californian adventurer gains second success as Jealous Again routs rivals
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The Independent Online

Whatever else might be lost in translation, the message from the first two days of this meeting is clear in anyone's language. Three of the six prizes offered on Tuesday were exported overseas, and in yesterday's big race it was the turn of the French. Then, astonishingly, a Californian adventurer named Wesley Ward struck gold for the second time in 24 hours. Make no mistake, it is not just international boundaries that are being dismantled here, but the self-esteem of British breeders and trainers.

Ward had been dismissed as quixotic at best when pitching up with a party of six horses for the week. They had pretty modest antecedents, in both pedigree and performance. Ward himself, meanwhile, can scarcely be counted one of the big names in the American sport. All of a sudden, however, he has proved himself one of its most outrageous pioneers. Five of his horses are juveniles, among which Strike The Tiger had been first to put his head over the parapet in the Windsor Castle Stakes on Tuesday. He burst clear and was never headed, albeit all out in the end to hold on at 33-1.

Ward had no doubt that Jealous Again, next up yesterday, was faster still, and this time there was corresponding respect for the filly in the betting, who was backed from 16-1 to 13-2. But nobody imagined that she would open quite so extravagant a gulf in class in what had seemed a competitive edition of the Queen Mary Stakes.

When she charged clear in the opening stages, many observers will have condescendingly assumed that she would pay for her recklessly premature use of energy. Soon after halfway, however, the riders in pursuit were united in disquiet. As the home fillies began to gasp and sway, Jealous Again just kept barrelling along under Johnny Velazquez and she was still five lengths clear at the post.

The obvious deficiency being disclosed in the indigenous thoroughbred is speed. On Tuesday Scenic Blast, the Australian champion, had hurtled past the older sprinters at his leisure, while both Ward's youngsters have also won over the minimum distance. But the real line in the sand could be drawn tomorrow, when he saddles Aegean in the Albany Stakes over six furlongs. "She's fantastic," Ward declared. "That's all I can say." This filly beat Jealous Again herself in Louisville – on dirt – and her opponents will include Lillie Langtry, highly regarded at no less a stable than Ballydoyle and already favourite for next year's 1,000 Guineas.

"In America we train for speed and that's one of the reasons I came over," Ward explained. "I thought maybe I could get a jump on the other trainers and horses, as I get my horses out nice and early and take advantage of the early races. Your horses are bred more for longer races. It's such an honour to be here, and I'm very proud."

Middle-distance racing on turf will doubtless remain a European speciality, but this discipline also becomes ever more international. True, Vision D'Etat had begun the Prince of Wales's Stakes apparently snagged on the surviving differences between racing nations – his trainer was unaware of the obligation to declare a tongue-strap, and the colt duly had to race without one – but ended up closing yet another suture instead.

Two colts apiece from either side of the Channel surged seamlessly through the final furlong, Vision D'Etat sustaining the best finish, despite starting behind a fairly steady pace. Off that kind of gallop, on quick ground at least, Tartan Bearer proved short of acceleration at this trip and he was beaten half a length, with Never On Sunday and Twice Over breathing down their necks.

Eric Libaud will now make the Arc his priority for Vision D'Etat, who finished fifth last year. "But he's a better horse now, has really grown into himself," the trainer said. "We could have a realistic chance this time because it may not be quite as good a crop."

If that is so, it is partly because of a lack of older horses at Ballydoyle. Aidan O'Brien was unrepresented here yesterday but his stable jockey, Johnny Murtagh, still mustered another two winners for Newmarket yards, in Spacious and Forgotten Voice.

For now, however, even in Ballydoyle they must be wondering just what they might be up against tomorrow. In the meantime Ward saddles Yogaroo in the opener today, while a colt named Honor In Peace tries his luck over fully seven furlongs on Saturday, when Cannonball – sixth behind Scenic Blast on Tuesday – turns out again in the Golden Jubilee Stakes.

The unprecedented success of European raiders at the Breeders' Cup last autumn implied that the introduction of more congenial, synthetic surfaces would require American trainers to make a fresh start. But the imperative is turning out to be a two-way one. For those privileged to witness the process, it is what is known as a "win-win" situation.

Ffos Las impresses before the off

Short of a solar eclipse, the new racecourse at Ffos Las could have chosen no more discreet a date to open. None the less there is a sell-out crowd of 10,000 this evening, and the signs are that this enterprise has deeper foundations than the one that unravelled so ingloriously at Great Leighs.

That misadventure was spurred by the revolution in all-weather surfaces, but Ffos Las becomes the first new turf course in 80 years. Jockeys have been unanimous in their praise, and the trainer Nicky Henderson hopes to arrange the perfect start when he saddles Ffos Las Diamond – in the colours of the track's owner, Dai Walters.

"This race has been the aim for a while," Henderson admitted. "Dai has been so innovative, and it's great to see someone putting their heart and soul into something. It's a magnificent course. You would run anything there."

Chris McGrath

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