06/15/2009 11:00PM

Strike the Tiger first U.S. winner at Royal Ascot


Strike the Tiger made history on Tuesday when he became the first American-trained horse to win a race at Royal Ascot. One of six horses Wesley Ward has brought to England for the Royal Meeting this week, the 2-year-old son of the Storm Cat stallion Tiger Ridge won the listed $81,000 Windsor Castle Stakes under John Velazquez, defeating 21 other 2-year-olds while landing a big price of 33-1.

Never far away, Strike the Tiger led halfway through the five-furlong dash and held on gamely to defeat Fratellino by a neck with the 4-1 favorite Angel's Pursuit back in eighth. The time for the straight and undulating five furlongs was 1:01.28 on good to firm ground.

His win is all the more remarkable in that Strike the Tiger was stepping up from a 3 3/4-length victory in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden claimer at Churchill Downs run in the slop. To win a listed race at Royal Ascot in his first start on turf is an extraordinary achievement on the part of both Ward and Velazquez.

"This just proves that if you get a horse right on the day it doesn't matter if they are running in Australia or China," a jubilant Ward told the Racing Post. The trainer, who also owns Strike the Tiger, said that "this is a great day for us, and hopefully my better 2-year-olds can be competitive later in the week."

Ward will saddle Jealous Again in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes on Wednesday, Yogaroo in Thursday's Group 2 Norfolk Stakes, Honor in Peace in the listed Chesham Stakes on Friday, and his Kentucky Juvenile Stakes winner Aegean in the Group 3 Albany Stakes on Saturday.

Saturday could also see the quick reappearance of the Ward-trained Cannonball in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes. Earlier on Tuesday, Cannonball made up a lot of ground late to finish sixth behind Australian raider Scenic Blast in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes. A New York-bred son of Catienus, Cannonball trailed through the first half-mile of the six-furlong sprint but was running best of all at the end. Beaten 5 1/2 lengths by the winner, Cannonball would benefit by the added furlong of the Golden Jubilee.

Only two other American-trained horses have won a flat race in Europe. Reigh Count, the 1928 Kentucky Derby winner, won Epsom's Coronation Cup for trainer Bert Mitchell a year later. In 1991, Leo O'Brien engineered the victory of Fourstars Allstar in the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh. More recently, Mighty Beau, trained by Jeff Mullins, finished fifth at 12-1 in the 2005 King's Stand Stakes, and in July of that year at Ascot, Ken McPeek sent 33-1 Hard Buck to finish second in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.

Given the humble beginnings of the California-bred Strike the Tiger, his Windsor Castle victory rates as one of the happiest surprises in the history of American racing.