11/02/2017 8:20AM

Lady Aurelia, a star overseas, looks to wow her native land

Barbara D. Livingston
Lady Aurelia can join Mizdirection as the only females to win the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The Breeders’ Cup represents a galaxy of equine stars every year, although it’s fair to say that some shine brighter than others.

Any comprehensive list of the top horses competing in the Breeders’ Cup this weekend at Del Mar would have to include Lady Aurelia, a 3-year-old filly who has made a particularly strong impression on European racing fans despite being born, raised, and based in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

“She’s already made a name for herself overseas,” said Wesley Ward, who trains Lady Aurelia for Stonestreet Stables, Peter Leidel, and George Bolton, “but it’d be nice to have her get the same kind of recognition here, too.”

Lady Aurelia, a bay Scat Daddy filly bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet, can make the most of that opportunity Saturday when she goes postward as a solid favorite in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Five of her seven starts have come in Europe – four in England and one in France – and the other two came at Keeneland, where she debuted in April 2016 and has trained when not on one of her foreign sojourns.

Two races have come to define Lady Aurelia, both coming with Queen Elizabeth II spectating at the high-profile June meets at Royal Ascot. Flaunting her spectacular turn of foot, she won the Group 2 Queen Mary by seven lengths in 2016 and the Group 1 King’s Stand in open company this year, with both races being wildly applauded by her many admirers on both continents.

A victory in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville in France in August 2016 helped her become the 2-year-old filly champion in Europe.

“All of her races have been special, even from the outset, when she broke her maiden at Keeneland,” said Ward. “But I will say when she won the Queen Mary it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It was one of the best races by any horse I’ve ever had. Then when she won again [at Royal Ascot] and beat older horses, it vindicated her performance from a year earlier.”

Ward, the 1984 Eclipse Award winner for top apprentice rider, has won more than 1,600 races since he turned to training in 1991. Three years ago at Santa Anita, he had two wins, three seconds, and one third from six Breeders’ Cup starters while watching from home in Florida due to family obligations. This year, the 49-year-old father of three arrived at Del Mar early, intent on seeing Lady Aurelia strut her stuff with a huge American audience watching for the first time.

Lady Aurelia will have Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard when she breaks from post 3 in a full field of 12 in the five-furlong Turf Sprint. Ward likes the inside post.

“She ought to be able to bounce right out of there, and Johnny won’t have to put his left-turn signal on,” said Ward. “He can ease her back behind the first set of speedies, then move her in or out for a run.”

A series of team workouts at Keeneland leading up to the Turf Sprint were meant to prepare Lady Aurelia as well as possible for any tight spots or unexpected trouble.

“We’ve schooled her countless times with a horse to her outside, so it’s not going to be like she needs to wheel outside into the clear,” said Ward. “She can shoot right on through there if she wants. Hopefully, it’ll all work out the way we think it will.”

Since the Turf Sprint was first run in the Breeders’ Cup in 2008 at Santa Anita, one female has won it (Mizdirection at 4 in 2012 and again in 2013), and one 3-year-old has won it (Bobby’s Kitten, 2014).

But a 3-year-old filly has never won it, and Ward is keenly aware of what a victory here Saturday would do for Lady Aurelia’s legacy. Stonestreet’s Barbara Banke and her partners intend to campaign Lady Aurelia as a 4-year-old, so a Breeders’ Cup triumph to carry her into next year and beyond “is something we’d really like for her to nail down,” said Ward.

“Training a horse this good has been a very humbling experience,” he added. “She’s only 3, but it seems like she’s older because she’s already been so many places and accomplished so much. Obviously, we’d all love for her to be able to show what she can do on Breeders’ Cup Day, when the whole racing world is watching.”

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