The Plate Trial Stakes winner Check Your Soul was made the lukewarm 3-1 morning line favorite for Sunday’s $1 million Queen’s Plate for three-year-olds, foaled in Canada.
The son of Perfect Soul was installed as the choice on the strength of his powerhouse performance three weeks ago in the Plate Trial, a key 1 1/8-mile prep for Canada’s most important horse racing event and North America’s longest, most-continuously run race.
The last three winners of the Plate Trial have gone on to triumph in the Queen’s Plate. Nobody knows this more than trainer Roger Attfield, since he started the streak in 2008 when his expert conditioning and unwavering confidence translated into a Plate score for Not Bourbon, another Charles Fipke homebred, who is by Perfect Soul’s full brother Not Impossible.
At Thursday’s draw, Attfield exuded confidence once again – mildly surprising the trackside tent’s Breakfast crowd when he assigned Check Your Soul post 13.
The Queen’s Plate post position draw is a draft format in which, at the beginning, each runner is assigned a selection number. The connections receive the opportunity to select the post from which their runner will leave.
The selection was a bit strange considering that Attfield had a relative early selection position and, as a result several of the stalls directly inside of 13 were still unselected. Asked why post 13, the length of Attfield’s answer proved to be far shorter than the meaning.
“That’s the post Not Bourbon broke from when he won the Plate,” said Attfield, referring to his eighth career Plate winner, who ties him with Harold Giddings, Jr., who incidentally captured his first Queen’s Plate 100 years ago, in 1911.
Don’t let the shortness of Attfield’s answer take away from the greatness of the significance.
Not trainer wants to lose more ground than he has to in a two-turn race going 10 furlongs. For Attfield to shuffle himself a bit further outside to satisfy the gods of numerology is a significant indication of confidence.
That coupled with the fact that he was eased up for most of the final furlong of the Plate Trial (a must-see replay if you’re considering wagering on or against him) makes him the sophomore with the most steam heading into the Queen’s Plate. Even if there are 16 other horses in the race, the 3-1 morning line quote seems a bit low on a horse who’s bandwagon, as far as racetrack regulars are concerned, is now as long as a new Bombardier subway.
From a performance point of view, no other horse’s stock has risen more since the Woodbine season began in April. It isn’t surprising that Inglorious and Queen’splatekitten, the first and second choices in the Queen’s Plate Winterbook (one of my last assignments as part of Woodbine’s publicity team), have held their form and remain among the top three choices to gallop away with Sunday’s Guineas.
Check Your Soul, on the other hand, was a 75-1 quote in the Winterbook – and for a couple of good reasons. He didn’t make his career debut until his victory at Keeneland in April and neither of his full older siblings turned any heads in their racing respective careers. Check Your Soul has emerged from the woodwork and in a hurry, as evident from open-length triumphs in the Wando Stakes and Plate Trial.
If there’s anything that may keep Check Your Soul from dropping into the 9-5 or 2-1 range, it’s that the mainstream media has more or less avoided him – even though he’s the most obvious story in the entire Plate. Attfield is gunning to be the unique holder of a record (for Queen’s Plate wins by a trainer) that was established 77 years ago when Giddings, Jr. toot his eighth Plate with Horometer in 1934.
While he’s had two chances to break the record in as many seasons, this is clearly his best shot to break the record. For this reason, from a marketing and media point of view, Check Your Soul and the Hall of Fame conditioner should have been poster boys for the 2011 Queen’s Plate. Why couldn’t there be red and blue (Roger’s barn colors) t-shirts and baseball hats with the No. 9 featured prominently on the front available to the first 5,000 in attendance?
We should have been at the point in the week that we, as regular followers, are sick of reading and hearing the names Check Your Soul and Roger Attfield.
Instead, we’re reading about winners of Indiana Downs turf contests, why Queen’splatekitten is the ‘Twilight Zone’ horse (huh?) and whether Bob Tiller will or will not sing ‘Oh Canada’ if he wins with a horse of the same name? Could there be an anti-pack reporting mentality has set in that has caused everyone to avoid repeating the obvious?
It’s hard to say. If, at the sixteenth pole, Patrick Husbands is pumping his fist or pointing his whip in the direction of Attfield’s Turf Club seat as he draws off by 4 ½ lengths, a lot of people will be asking themselves, ‘Why didn’t we do more to market this historic entrant.’
Seventy-seven year-old records don’t get broken every day – in any sport. Regular fans will arrive at Woodbine tomorrow aware the 152nd Plate could be one for the ages. The trouble is, the majority of those in attendance are once-or-twice per year visitors that will arrive not knowing any of the 17 entrants they will see in the Plate. They need educational nudge (even if it’s a free hat) to bring them onside and show them that they made a damn good entertainment choice by being at Woodbine on Sunday because they have the chance to witness one of the entrants perform something historic.
It doesn’t take much for a bit of information like that to create a grandstand buzz. If fans are primed with this context from the beginning of the day, then here’s a high chance that by race time they’ll be waiting with anticipation for the race and feel a sense of inclusion in the result whether they’ve bet the race or not.
If tomorrow Woodbine strives to assure that everyone knows the historic stakes of the race and Check Your Soul does indeed win, it will have successfully capitalized on the potential of the historic event because these once-or-twice per year visitors have been charmed by the magic of this experience and may be back more frequently. If it treats Check Your Soul as one member of a Group of 17 and he wins, then only a small percentage of the crowd will appreciate the significance of the moment while the rest are heading for the exits to beat the traffic.
Offering this ‘educational nudge’ shouldn’t begin with the day of the race. It should be part of a comprehensive marketing strategy that markets the star of the race, not just the race itself. A complementary media strategy would echo this approach, taking action that focuses the media on this star throughout the week and creates name repetition that has been lacking.
Instead, what has become a bit repetitive in this week’s coverage is talk of how deep a field that has assembled and how great a betting race it is. Indeed, 17 horses are slated to go to post on Sunday. But let’s not confuse a large field with a strong field or a competitive field. There are only six stakes winners in this field. Nine of the 17 have visited the winner’s circle no more than once. It certainly is very sportsmanlike to see so many interested in being part of Canada’s most important race. It’s a healthy sign for the Canadian industry. Rationally speaking, there are three (maybe four, if Bowman’s Causeway is to be included) horses with a legitimate chance to win this race – Check Your Soul, Queen’splatekitten and Inglorious – and it’s conceivable that they could comfortably fill out a chalky triactor.
All three are undefeated over Woodbine’s synthetic surface – a cumulative 8-for-8 record. All three exit eye-catching stakes scores in which they rallied from the back third of the field, overcoming soft splits that normally would put a closer at a disadvantage.
There is potential for an epic stretch battle if at least two hook up at the three-sixteenths pole and are well-matched enough to go toe-to-toe to the finish. It’s not guaranteed there will be fireworks in the lane. Even if these three (or four) arrive with their ‘A’ game on Sunday, one may be so talented that he or she is in a league of his or her own by the time the tenth furlong is underway.