Obviously the next horse in line after Strait of Doverquee, in reality and on the toteboard, is the Stronach Stable homebred River Rush. The son of Orientate broke out in style, and in a hurry, with a track record performance in just his third career start, the Plate Trial Stakes. It was a bit of a breakout race for his jockey, Jim McAleney, who is off to arguably the slowest start of his career. The River Rush win was visually impressive, but perhaps a touch illusionary when you consider the dynamics of the race. It’s also important to note that it was a significant peak for a lightly-raced horse and even his trainer is worried about regression. The Plate’s history is littered with examples of Plate Trial winners that were disappointments. The easiest one to remember is last year is Check Your Soul, who was nowhere in the Plate or the Prince of Wales after his overwhelming performance in the Plate Trial. Nonetheless, let’s review how River Rush was able to take a stranglehold on the Plate Trial. He was unhurried and back about nine lengths early. McAleney said after the race that he was following trainer Reade Baker’s instructions by getting him over to the rail to save ground. The directive couldn’t have been more significant to the outcome of the race. Already beginning to move up on the second turn, he was in the perfect spot when Luis Contreras and Classic Bryce surprisingly came of the rail nearing the top of the stretch. Without having to pause at all, McAleney drove through the opening and sailed to the wire over the Polytrack, that had been yielding very fast times on June 3. In a way, this edition of the Plate Trial was like this year’s Kentucky Derby, in which Bodemeister’s ambitious pace had bottomed out the field leaving only I’ll Have Another with anything left in reserve to catch up. In the case of the Plate Trial, Incredicat was the one setting off on a speed mission, hitting six furlongs in 1:10 4/5. By virtue of his ground-saving trip and his peak form, River Rush was the only Canadian-bred running in the stretch, which featured a slow 13-second final furlong. Like Bodemeister, who capitalized on the speed favoring nature of the Churchill Downs surface until he was running on fumes, Incredicat fought on gamely over the fast Polytrack but proved second best to River Rush.
If Incredicat was entered in the Queen’s Plate, we’d be asking questions like, ‘If he was able to slow down through early fractions, would he have more left to get the 1 ¼-mile distance.’ In terms of the handicapping picture, we don’t have to tussle with this possibility.
What about the third-place finisher in the Plate Trial Stakes, Classic Bryce? He’s run out of excuses. He had every chance to run down Incredicat shortly before River Rush jumped on the scene. In fact, he saved quite a bit of ground early and then got out of the way so River Rush could cruise up the inside. It gave him an outside position from which to pounce on Incredicat and he failed. Watching the head-on replay he drifted out badly in the stretch. Classic Bryce is moving in the wrong direction and would need a major turnaround to compete Sunday.
Finishing just in behind Classic Bryce was the Todd Pletcher trainee Big Creek. Reports are Pletcher won’t be in town for the race, but don’t be fooled by that. This horse is a significant alternative to Strait of Dover and might be relatively overlooked in the wagering because casual fans will dismiss his Plate Trial effort as declining form. This would be a big mistake, not because he’s trained by Pletcher and not because he’s going to be ridden by Ramon Dominguez, in lieu of Emma-Jayne Wilson. Simply put, Big Creek’s Plate Trial was arguably the second best performance in the field and only a shade, not six lengths, behind the runaway winner River Rush. Big Creek raced extremely wide in the Plate Trial. On Woodbine programs that feature a dead rail and a dead track, that’s not generally a hindrance. When the track record is broken by a horse that saved every inch of ground, it’s a major inconvenience to be wide on both turns. Our quantitative resource, Trakus Racing Inc., reports that Wilson guided Big Creek on a journey that was 49 feet longer than River Rush. Since racing still deals in the archaic unit of lengths to measure relative ability, that difference in feet travelled works out to a trip of almost five lengths longer – almost the same margin he lost the Trial. Also worth noting is that Big Creek endured this wide trip while stalking the very fast fractions set by Incredicat. Since Incredicat isn’t in the race, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dominguez gun Big Creek up to the lead from post 12 in an attempt to take advantage of a much slower pace scenario. Big Creek’s better than his Plate Trial shows and the son of Indian Charlie is live for a top-two placing if the pace slows down, leaving him and Strait of Dover well out in front with a furlong to go.
Sticking with our Trakus analysis of the recent Plate Trial, there’s another horse exiting the 1 1/8-mile event that is better than his recent form would appear. To be guided for the first time by Julien Leparoux, Peyton is the Queen’s Plate version of Dullahan. He’s at his best when he’s playing the role of the deep closer. In the Plate Trial, he was taken out of this role at the worst possible time – when there was a strong pace at which to run. Justin Stein, who will be on Strait of Dover, had him just four lengths off the :47 1/5 and 1:10 4/5 fractions. That alone would have been enough to dull his late run. In addition, Trakus shows him travelling 43 feet more than River Rush. He wouldn’t have beat River Rush with the same trip but he would have been in the same ballpark. He had the same extremely wide trip in the Queenston Stakes as well and wound up fifth, but just 1 ½ lengths from victory. Peyton’s 20-1 in the Morning Line, but certainly the type of horse that has the right style to take advantage of the 1 ¼-mile distance. The tepid pace forecast does hurt his chances to win, but he’s a must use in exotics. Golden Ridge is one of three entrants attempting to bring last year’s most outstanding trainer, Mark Casse, his first Queen’s Plate tally. He’s the well-bred new kid on the block. He’s only raced three times. He should have won two starts ago at Keeneland, but he gave up the lead in the stretch. The Melnyk Racing homebred won his Woodbine debut in decent time of 1:44 1/5, which was just two-fifths of a second slower than Dixie Strike’s time in her dazzling win in the Selene Stakes. The son of Distorted Humor drew a favorable middle post in the Plate, but the middle pace (:25 seconds) in his last two races is a concern. Like Strait of Dover, he hasn’t raced since the middle of May. At a price in the 5-1 range, Golden Ridge may not be worth taking a chance on considering it is unclear what his true ability level is or whether he has the foundation to accomplish such a task. As stated, the aforementioned Dixie Strike, the Winterbook favorite for the Plate, ran a dazzling race two back in the Selene. The early pace set by Tu Endie Wei was slow. The Selene went in 1:13 2/5, while the maiden event Golden Ridge won the three-quarter time was 1:12 4/5. Nonetheless, the daughter of Smart Strike and half-sister to 2011 winner Inglorious, came home so fast that her final time was two lengths or so quicker than this maiden. Whatever impression she left in the Selene was replaced by disappointment after the Woodbine Oaks, in which she was 4-5 to win. She reportedly never fired and checked in fifth, 2 ½ lengths behind Irish Mission, who won the race in a time that was significantly slower than the track record time River Rush put up on the same day in the Plate Trial. Dixie Strike’s trip was only two feet wider than that of Irish Mission who had the second widest trip, according to Trakus calculations. So this isn’t a valid excuse. Did Dixie Strike just have an off day? If she is evaluated on the strength of her Selene score, she’s a pretty serious Plate contender. The question is how forgiving do you want to be? She’s a quirky filly with consistency issues. Her Florida Oaks victory was tremendous given the slow pace scenario and the ground she closed. Then her Gulfstream and Keeneland efforts weren’t as good. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her bounce back, especially considering her connections aren’t shy about throwing her up against the best of the Canadian-bred division. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see her struggle again. It’s a toss-up that certainly dictates a decent price. Making Amends, also trained by Mark Casse is a longshot in the field. Unlike Big Creek and Peyton, he didn’t lose as much ground compared to the winner (18 feet) in the Plate Trial in which he was bet down to 6-1 on the strength of his near miss in the Queenston Stakes. It’s hard to move up his Plate Trial performance. The suspicion is that he’s more of an off-the-pace sprinter. Colleen’s Sailor is the last horse worth considering that bodes mentioning if for no other reason that he’s trained by the Queen’s Plate master himself, soon to be double Hall of Fame member Roger Attfield. His 2012 pupil is Colleen’s Sailor, who was to get the services of John Velazquez. His injury last weekend has forced an audible so, Corey Nakatani gets the call. Colleen’s Sailor, who could ramble home and make for an interesting marine-themed triactor, comes off a 1 1/8-mile allowance victory on May 27. The pace of the race was ridiculously slow, 1:16 for three-quarters, but the field quickened a bit in the final three furlongs and this son of Northern Afleet was able to get the nod. On the Beyer scale the effort was about as good as the figure he earned in his three-year-old debut when third to his stablemate Perfect Afleet. More importantly, both attempts by Colleen’s Sailor this year are as fast as his best effort at the end of his two-year-old season when fifth in the Display to Maritimer. The point is that the Terra Di Sienna charge appears to be sitting on a breakthrough performance. For him to make an impact this would be a necessity. If indeed a four to six-length move forward occurs it would put him in the hunt. If he wins, he’d give Attfield sole possession of the record for Queen’s Plate victories by a trainer.