Sunday 30 April 2017

Fictional Account writing a rags against riches fairytale

Unheralded trainer Vincent Ward hopes his mare can spring a surprise in the Ascot Gold Cup, writes Ronan Groome

They'll all be talking about Frankel, So You Think and Goldikova to mention but a few. But even with those big names set to excite, the Ascot Gold Cup on Thursday will still be the highlight for the traditionalist and for many other racing fans. The entries for the race came in on Friday morning with the news that Rite Of Passage would not be going back to defend the crown he so admirably won last year.

But all the other names you'd expect to see are there. Godolphin and Coolmore are both well represented in the list of owners, while all the top trainers' names are there too: Gosden, Fabre, Bin Suroor, Tregoning, Meehan, Cumani, O'Brien. It's what you'd expect for a Group One contest of this stature.

But there is one name that won't be so familiar, V C Ward. Vincent Ward is a sheep farmer from Co Meath, with 300 stock in his care, grossly outnumbering the four horses he trains on his restricted licence. He only has six stables in any case. He has no staff, so any extra help he needs comes from friends or neighbours. And any sort of success on Thursday won't change that either. "It's best to keep it simple and with four horses you can give them your full attention," he explains.

"Of course, when they're going well you can't train enough horses, but when they're running poorly, four horses are more than enough."

Ward's horse in the Gold Cup is Fictional Account, by no means one of those big race no-hopers that sparked the anger of Ryan Moore at Epsom last week. This one has a right good chance.

Her form in Ireland is good. On her last start, she was only beaten a length and a half by Fame And Glory at Leopardstown, while only a neck behind Rite Of Passage. But it was her winning performance at Ascot last autumn that has been causing Ward's immense excitement.

That whole experience was an education for the chestnut mare. She just doesn't like travelling. Ward tells of how they came close to turning back before they even reached the ferry. Her unease continued on the six-hour motorway trek to Ascot. By the time they got there the daughter of Stravinsky had exerted so much energy, she lay down in her straw bed for a full day.

Somehow, she raised herself from her slumber and made it down to the start for the two-mile listed Fenwolf Stakes. Perhaps she was still feeling the effects of the nightmare journey when leaving the stalls, she jumped up and lost about five lengths, but the slow early pace allowed her to make up the ground and she was soon travelling well at the back of the field for William Buick.

As the runners made their way on to the Ascot straight, the commentator directed attention to the favourite Tastahil, which was making the best of his way home for Richard Hills in the familiar Hamdan Al Maktoum colours. Martyr was travelling well in the Highclere colours, while both the Queen's Free Agent and Godolphin's Pompeyano were still in contention.

It wasn't until past the two-furlong pole that the announcer recognised that William Buick was sitting motionless in behind the leaders. The 16/1 shot joined them before the one-furlong pole, picked up well when Buick asked her to, and had the race sewn up inside the final furlong. Significantly, she wasn't stopping either, the further she went the more Fictional Account drew away from racing's big wigs, which bodes well for the extra four furlongs she'll have to deal with on Thursday.

This time Ward will take her over a bit earlier. He can't say it will help her to settle any better but he's hoping she will be able to run her race when Thursday comes. "Every horse has their quirks, and for her it's travelling so there is not much we can do. She's so tough though and that's a huge plus."

Fictional Account will take on the big boys again this Thursday and Ward knows the task that lies ahead at the event he rightfully labels 'the Olympics of racing'. Rags to riches or rags against riches if you like, there's a little sense of fairytale about this story. The subject of market support last week, Fictional Account takes up the lively outsider tag, and should she run a big race, a lot more people will know the name V C Ward.

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