Today marks the 158th running of the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, the most prestigious race for sophomores contested north of the border and also the race with the longest consecutively run streak in North America. Named for the sitting monarch in Britain (currently a queen, will revert to the King’s Plate when Prince Charles ascends the throne), the 1 ¼-mile test, which is conducted over the synthetic Tapeta surface, is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
Though the Queen’s Plate has been held at different tracks in Canada, the classic for Canadian-breds has been held at Woodbine every year since 1955. Some of the more recognizable names to have won the Queen’s Plate are L’Enjoleur, Son of Briartic, Key to the Moon, With Approval, Izvestia, Dance Smartly, Alydeed, Peteski, Awesome Again, Wando, Wild Desert and Shaman Ghost.
A total of 25 fillies have defeated their male counterparts in the Queen’s Plate, the most prominent likely being racing Hall of Famer Dance Smartly in 1991. (As a broodmare, Dance Smartly produced two Queen’s Plate winners herself in 2000 and 2001—Scatter the Gold and Dancethruthedawn, respectively. ) And 12 horses are officially listed as winners of the Canadian Triple Crown after having taking the Queen’s Plate before the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie in late July and then the Breeders’ Stakes over Woodbine’s turf.
Perhaps the most famous winner of the Queen’s Plate is 1964 Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer. Dubbed “The Pride of Canada”, Northern Dancer not only won the Kentucky Derby and Queen’s Plate, he also won the Preakness Stakes and remains one of the most influential sires — if not the most influential — in the world and his blood is the most prominent in all notable sire lines to this day.
Sunday’s weather in the Toronto/Etobicoke area calls for a chance for showers, mostly in the afternoon, and highs in the mid-to upper 70s. Because the main track is a synthetic surface, wet weather won’t have a significant effect on the conditions of the main track throughout the day.
This year, 13 Canuck-breds are set to line up for the Queen’s Plate, including two very highly regarded fillies and a couple from the stable of leading trainer Mark Casse.
Holy Helena, the first of two fillies, is also the early favorite off her win in the Woodbine Oaks three weeks ago. The Stronach Stables-owned/Adena Springs-bred daughter of Ghostzapper is lightly raced, but she rides a two-race win skein into this race and has shown improvement with each start, her numbers putting her on top of the field in overall class, pace and speed.
She’s a mid-pack stalker type who will like the anticipated pace in front of her and she has already won over this surface. A recent bullet workout in 1:01 4/5 doesn’t hurt her either and there are no more capable hands than trainer Jimmy Jerkens and jockey Luis Contreras.
Channel Maker leads the field to post in his first start since a runner-up finish in the Marine Stakes (GIII) at month ago. The gelded son of English Channel hasn’t won since breaking his maiden here in a stakes last August, but he has put up some decent efforts and enters this event off a pair of seconds. Hall of Famer Bill Mott took over the training duties three races back and while the change in conditioners hasn’t produced any wins yet, Channel Maker’s numbers have improved with each start. Local jockey Rafael Hernandez will be back aboard and the pair will probably race mid-pack early before launching a stretch move for the win attempt.
King and His Court, who was last year’s Sovereign Award-winning juvenile, won the Wando Stakes two back before a runner-up finish in the Plate Trial last out three weeks ago. He’s trained by Mark Casse, who has taken top trainer honors at Woodbine and fairly recently broken through onto the international scene training the likes of champions Tepin and Classic Empire. For a bit, this $2,300 gelded son of Court Vision was considered a potential American Triple Crown candidate, but after a ninth and 10th in two preps, he was sent back to the softer company of fellow Canadian-breds.
He’s proven to be mostly a closer with some tactical turn of foot, so he may be found anywhere in the early going depending on the pace scenario. He’s faced and defeated several of his rivals in here and his best shows he’s got a legit shot. Regular jockey Gary Boulanger will be aboard.
Guy Caballero may be the best local runner, having earned a record of 5-2-1-1 over this synthetic track. The son of Quality Road upset the Plate Trial in his last at odds of 20-1 in what was a career-best effort, but in a win that made sense for the colt, who has improved with each start this year. He’s conditioned by leading trainer Catherine Day Phillips, who shockingly has yet to win this race, and he also gets the benefit of leading New York jockey Jose Ortiz, fresh off his Belmont Stakes score on Tapwrit. There’s a good chance we’ll see this colt up near the pace, using every bit of talent his connections hope he has to hold off the late charge.
State of Honor will also represent the Mark Casse barn off a third in the Plate Trial last out and a last-place finish in the Kentucky Derby two back (GI). While overmatched on the first Saturday in May in Louisville, he fits better here and if he runs back to his second in the Florida Derby (GI) he could prove a tough customer. Expect him to be on or near the pace from the break.
Day Phillips also sends out Watch Me Strut, who is a useful son of Strut the Stage, but who also makes his stakes debut in a very, very tough spot.
Inflexibility is the other filly and enters off a third behind Holy Helena in the Woodbine Oaks. She hails from top trainer Chad Brown’s barn, has ability and, if she gets a cleaner trip than last time, she may be dangerous at a decent price to at least pick up a larger share of the pot.
Aurora’s Way makes his second start after an impressive four-length maiden win in his debut three weeks ago. He’s been assigned 6-1 morning line odds, but it’s a good bet he’ll offer more by post time. Julien Leparoux ships in to ride this son of Giant’s Causeway.
Tiz a Slam is consistent, but he’s shown his ability is probably a cut below the top choices here though the son of Tiznow should get an extra look thanks to his Hall of Fame trainer, Roger Attfield.
Malibu Secret was third last time in the Marine and is an improving son of Malibu Moon for trainer Malcolm Pierce. He’ll show more speed, likely, with the addition of blinkers, but for the most part seems behind the top choices here to expect a win.
Meagray is a talented type who was fourth in the Marine last time out. He’s owned and was bred by legendary Canadian horseman Gustav Shickedanz, but this is a tough spot to expect a win from this well-bred son of Langfuhr.
This is an awfully ambitious spot for Spirit of Caledon to face winners for the first time, especially when taking his figures and competition level into account.
Vaughan also faces winners for the first time and is very lightly raced. He’d need more in just about every department to be considered a legitimate contender.