Acapulco makes steps up in Nunthorpe Stakes as Muthmir carries UAE hopes

Wesley Ward has set the bar of achievement high in the past few years, and the American trainer bids to raise it even farther when Acapulco takes on her elders for the first time in the Nunthorpe Stakes.

Acapulco, centre, storms to victory in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot. / REX
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Wesley Ward has set the bar of achievement high in the past few years, and the American trainer bids to raise it even farther when the giant-framed filly Acapulco takes on her elders for the first time in the Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday.

Acapulco, who looks more like a four-year-old colt than an early-foaled juvenile filly, lines up against 19 rivals who include dual Nunthorpe winner Sole Power and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s recent Goodwood winner Muthmir.

She takes her chance having run her own gender and age group ragged during the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

That performance, coupled with Ward’s bullish quotes since the daughter of American sire Scat Daddy arrived on these shores on Saturday with stablemate Finnegan, who runs in tomorrow’s Gimcrack Stakes, has resulted in few envisaging defeat for the Coolmore-owned challenger.

Due to the framework of the Nunthorpe Stakes, Acapulco will break from Gate 4 under rider Irad Ortiz with 12.2kgs less weight than Sole Power. Her maturity and sheer speed give her a good chance of being the first American winner of the 1,000-metre dash and the first trained outside Europe since Al Quoz Sprint winner Ortensia scored for Australia in 2012.

Ward’s ability to break out from his Keeneland base and strike at the highest level in Britain is a phenomenon. The former jockey has sent 33 runners to Britain since 2009 and has had seven winners.

But Ward is not the first trainer from the North American continent to try his hand at one of Europe’s premier sprints.

In the early 1990s, there was a flurry of Nunthorpe challengers that fizzled out because of the sheer enormity of the task.

Mark Reid was a trainer who oversaw around 150 horses in his prime, and the 64-year-old bloodstock agent remains in awe of Ward’s accomplishments.

Reid brought over Mr Nickerson to run in the 1990 Nunthorpe Stakes. Mr Nickerson broke poorly under Cash Asmussen and eventually finished seventh.

Reid said he underestimated what it would take to win the Nunthorpe Stakes, however. Mr Nickerson had never run on turf before, had always raced around a turn and never trained in the wide expanses of Newmarket or York, which to the backrow sheds of American training facilities could not be more alien.

“I think it is crucial to train them on a straightaway before coming over,” Reid said. “American horses like to lean in to the turn. In fact, there are so many factors to consider.

“The going in England is much softer than ours, and when he came in after the race Cash looked at me and apologised because he forgot to tell me beforehand that in York when the gates open it is silent.

“In America the crowd are on you and the bell rings and everything is going on around them, but that day when the gates opened in the countryside somewhere he barely heard a whisper.

“So he broke away behind and must have changed his legs around eight times. The field split down the middle and he was probably thinking, ‘Oh my god, what have you got me in to?’ People have no idea how extraordinary Ward’s achievements are.”

Muthmir carries the hopes of the UAE into the race after Dubai-owned horses carried all before them yesterday on the Knavesmire.

Godolphin’s Pleascach showed all the sparkle that trainer Jim Bolger had promised earlier in the season when she was a gutsy winner of the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, while Sheikh Rashid bin Dalmook’s Besharah won the Group 2 Lowther Stakes.

To complete the strong showing, Tasleet, which is also owned by the Minister of Finance, looks an outsider for next season’s English 2,000 Guineas after taking the opening 1,200m race for juveniles.

Pleascach won the Irish 1,000 Guineas in May, and so highly does Bolger rate the daughter of former champion juvenile Teofilo that he entered her to take on the colts in the Irish Derby.

She missed the race and was then second in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot, but having had a rest since finishing second in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes, she ground down long-time leader and favourite Covert Love to win by a neck.

Bolger was full of praise for the patient ride given to the filly by Kevin Manning and then revealed that the Prix l’Opera at Longchamp in October was the next step.

“The French deserve to see her,” he said.