06/18/2009 11:00PM

Ward's Ascot success was no fluke

Email
Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Strike the Tiger was the first of two winners John Velazquez rode at Ascot for trainer Wesley Ward.

NEW YORK - Through Friday's racing, Wesley Ward had doubled the number of flat races won by American-trained horses in Europe throughout the long history of racing. Superlatives like bold, daring, unprecedented are in order for what the onetime champion apprentice rider has accomplished at Royal Ascot this week. Ward deserves a special Eclipse Award for his achievement, something along the lines of the Doing Something That No Other American Trainer in History Has Ever Had the Nerve To Do Award.

Given the hundreds of European-trained horses that have traveled to run in big races in America, Ward's Ascot foray was long, long overdue. Yet who could have predicted that Jealous Again and Strike the Tiger would succeed where so few had tried before?

There are reasons, however, and here are some of them.

As Ward himself pointed out, American horses are trained for speed. More important, American horses are trained to bust out of the gate like cannon shots. British horses, on the other hand, are notoriously slow out of the gate, even in sprints. And British trainers don't take much care in teaching their charges to get into the starting gate. In Wednesday's Royal Hunt Cup, three runners were scratched by the starter because of "recalcitrance" before the start. While British gate crews don't put half the effort into getting tough-to-load horses into the gate as do their American counterparts, much of the blame for such a fiasco lies with British trainers.

John Velazquez said that he yelled at Strike the Tiger as the gate opened for the Windsor Castle Stakes. That was a bright idea as European starting gates do not have a bell that rings when they open. Moreover, they are flimsy things compared with American gates. They make a flapping sound upon opening, nothing like the great clanging American gates make to alert a horse that the race is on.

Ward wasn't the only history maker at Ascot this week. Yeats's fourth Ascot Gold Cup victory puts him one behind Kelso for consecutive big race wins, the great gelding having won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Aqueduct five times in a row from 1960 to 1964 when the race was run at a real staying distance of two miles. Those were the days when American horses were still bred for stamina, Kelso's victims including Bald Eagle, Roman Brother, and Quadrangle.

Royal Ascot was the scene of another famous winning streak when the legendary stayer Brown Jack won the Queen Alexandra Stakes six times in succession from 1929 to 1934. A conditions race run in those days at 2 3/4 miles, 34 yards, it has been run at 2 5/8 miles, 159 yards since the course at Ascot was slightly reconfigured to accommodate the new grandstand in 2006, but it is still the longest flat race in England.

What makes Brown Jack extra special is that he won Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle in March 1928 before embarking on a flat career that began with a win in the 1928 running of the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Handicap at the Royal Meeting. Combined with his six Queen Alexandra victories, Brown Jack thus won a race at Royal Ascot seven years in a row.

Ascot wasn't the only place where racing history was made this week. Tres Rapide has become what may be the first horse in history to be placed first, second, and third in the same race. Trained in France by Henri-Alex Pantall, she traveled to Baden-Baden on May 24 to win the Group 2 Grosser Preis der Badischen, only to be disqualified and placed third. Her owner, Horst Rapp, appealed the stewards' decision and received partial consolation when it was decided on Thursday to move her up to second place.

Much of the juvenile excitement at Ascot this week, outside of the behavior of some of the Royal Meeting's less sophisticated racegoers, was provided by 2-year-olds like Jealous Again, Strike the Tiger, and Canfield Cliffs, the sensational winner of the Coventry Stakes. Across the Channel, however, there is a 2-year-old colt named Siyouni who is surprising not only French turfistes but his ultra-sophisticated owner the Aga Khan as well.

The Aga rarely has a horse that is much good at anything less than a mile. Many of his best horses, like Arc winners Zarkava and Dalakhani, are 1 1/2-mile types, so the emergence of the precocious Siyouni is a novelty for him. Trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, the Pivotal colt is descended from a line of horses the Aga Khan bought from the estate of the late Jean-Luc Lagardere. He is 3 for 3 thus far, traveling under the radar at Maisons-Laffitte on Wednesday for a three-length victory in the listed five-furlong Prix La Fleche. He goes next in the 5 1/2-furlong, Group 2 Prix Robert Papin at Maisons-Laffitte on July 26 when he will be seriously tested by the Brian Meehan-trained Radiohead, who easily won the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes on Wednesday despite being knocked off his feet in a contretemps caused by the Ward-trained Yogaroo.

Other news from the French front concerns Goldikova. The Breeders' Cup Mile winner will attempt to make amends for her poor run on soft ground versus males over a too long 1 1/8 miles, 55 yards in the Prix d'Ispahan when she travels to Newmarket for the one-mile, Group 1 Falmouth Stakes against her own sex on July 8. Before then all eyes will be on Sea the Stars, the admirable winner of the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby who goes for a classic triple in the Irish Derby next Sunday at the Curragh.