Saturday marks the 159th running of the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, the most prestigious race for sophomores contested north of the American/Canadian border and also the race with the longest consecutively run streak in North America.
Named for the sitting monarch in Britain (currently a Queen, it will revert to the King’s Plate when Prince Charles of Wales ascends the throne) the 1 ¼-mile test, which is conducted over Woodbine’s synthetic Tapeta surface, is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
Though the Queen’s Plate has been held at different tracks throughout Canada, this classic for thoroughbreds bred in Canada 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.
Twelve horses are officially listed as winners of the Canadian Triple Crown after having taking the Queen’s Plate, then the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie in late July and then the Breeders’ Stakes over Woodbine’s turf. A total of 25 fillies have defeated their male counterparts in the Queen’s Plate, the most prominent 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 winners Scatter the Gold and Dancethruthedawn.
The filly Holy Helena won this race for Stronach Stables a year ago.
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 in history and his blood is found prominently in all popular sire lines to this day.
Sunday’s weather in the Toronto/Etobicoke area calls for clear skies and highs in the mid-80s. 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, 16 were entered for Canada’s most recognizable race, including a pair of pretty talented fillies, both of which are among the top morning-line favorites.
Stonestreet Farms Telekinesis, who was purchased for $470,000 as a weanling at the 2015 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, is one of trainer Mark Casse’s three who will head postward. The son of Ghostzapper (who sired two of the last three Queen’s Plate winners) has started four times this year with two wins, including the Plate Trial in his most recent. He’s earned a 91 Brisnet speed figure or greater in each of his races and has been working very well over the Woodbine surface. He’ll set sail for the lead from his outside post position (ten) under leading rider Patrick Husbands and while he’s never won at the distance, he’s bred for it and has a win over the Woodbine surface.
The filly Dixie Moon is coming off a nice win in the Woodbine Oaks, defeating today’s rival Wonder Gadot after a smart stalking trip under Eurico Da Silva. The Sean and Dorothy Fitzhenry homebred daughter of Curlin has won half of her eight career starts and was even a respectable sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GI) at Del Mar back in November. The Catherine Day Phillips trainee is actually improving, has been training exceptionally well over the all-weather all spring. If she gets her preferred stalking trip, she will be tough.
With a name like Wonder Gadot (named for Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot), it’s no surprise the other filly in the race is a warrior. Crowned last year’s Canadian Champion Juvenile Filly after winning the Mazarine Stakes over this track and the Demoiselle Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct, the Gary Barber-owned daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has had a pretty solid 2018, even though she has yet to win a race.
Her last three starts — all second-place finishes, including the Kentucky Oaks behind division leader Monomoy Girl — were are all exceptional performances from just off the pace and anything close makes her dangerous for a win here. She adds blinkers for Casse and jockey John Velazquez, which should keep her up in the pace scenario early, and she’s been working and training well here for this race for several weeks.
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Strike Me Down has earned one win, two seconds and a third in four lifetime starts and enters this race off a maiden win and a second in stakes company. He’s owned by five-time Plate winners Sam-Son Farm, with trainer Graham Motion looking for his first victory in this storied event. This improving son of Tapit likes this track and if he is forwardly placed early by jockey Jose Ortiz, figures to finish strongly.
Silent Poet won his last two (of three overall) and is improving. He’s been working well at Woodbine and he looks like a must-use for exotics tickets.
Inge hasn’t won in five starts since breaking his maiden for $40,000 back in December, though he is stakes-placed. He’s back home after wintering at Oaklawn Park and he has three wins from seven starts over the all-weather surface at Woodbine.
Cooler Mike makes a big jump in class, though he does have a nice allowance win back in mid-May. He’ll surely be part of the early pace scenario, but overall his figures are substantially below where they need to be to be effective. He has finished at least second in five of seven career starts over this track.
Say the Word is another Sam-Son/Motion runner who is improving, but will it be enough to post an upset? It also seems like his future is on turf, regardless of the synthetic/turf connection.
Alternative Route won the Rushaway Stakes in March over Turfway’s synthetic surface then was fourth in a grassy Arlington Classic. Overall, his figures are average and he seems in a bit too tough.
Boyhood Dream broke his maiden in his sixth start wearing a $30,000 tag at Keeneland in late April. He followed it up with a decent second in an allowance race over this surface, then was fourth in a stakes. He’s improving, but seems to still be a notch below the more highly regarded runners.
Neepawa is Casse’s third horse and likely a legit third-stringer in the barn. He’s done his best running over the turf and has a second and third on Tapeta — but he seems to want softer company.
Marriage Counselor just broke his maiden for $25,000 fifth start, so it would be unrealistic to expect a win here.
Pawnbroker and Real Dude are still maidens.
Aheadbyacentury and Rose’s Vision are also-eligibles.