Welcome to the Plate week! This week, Thoroughly Woodbine will endeavour to provide Horse Racing Nation’s fans, North and South of the 49th parallel with news and insight into the $1 million, Queen’s Plate Stakes, North America’s longest most-continuously run stakes race.
The first surprise of the week revolves around the potential field size for this 152nd renewal of the ‘Gallop for the Guineas,’ which is restricted to three-year-olds, foaled in Canada. Reports indicate that as many as 17 will line up in the starting gate(s) late on Sunday afternoon. From, this development it would appear that the top-notch triumvirate of Queen’splatekitten, Check Your Soul and Inglorious hasn’t scared too many rivals away.
From a wagering perspective this is great news, even if deep-down the race does boil down to a three-way between the two colts and the filly. Like the Kentucky Derby, the Queen’s Plate draws hundreds of once-a-year fans out of the woodwork – fans that will bet horses for any reason from a catchy name to a resemblance to their aunt’s, neighbor’s, daughter’s quarter-horse. In whatever pool one decides to take a dip, there should be value.
If the Plate is the closest thing Canada has to the Kentucky Derby, then it is fitting that a closer look be taken at the races that make up the stepping stones to the important fixture in Canadian racing. Which events have the most success at generating the winner of the Plate? Which is a curse to win?
Even though the Plate Trial and the Marine are the two main two-turn preps for the Queen’s Plate, it is much more uncommon than one would think for both winners to square off on Plate day. This post will dig a bit deeper into this phenomenon.
2011 winner: Check Your Soul
The Plate Trial Stakes is contested at 1 1/8 miles and as, Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attield has stated so eloquently this week, it requires its participants to carry top-weight of 126 pounds, just like they will in the Queen’s Plate. The other distinction: the Plate Trial is only for three-year-olds that are foaled in Canada – also the same restriction featured in the 1 ¼-mile Queen’s Plate.
As appropriate as those conditions sound as a prep for the Plate, for many years, winning the Plate Trial was one of the biggest mistakes a three-year-old could make on the road to the Queen’s Plate – almost as big a curse as the Coronation Futurity, the winner of which hasn’t gone on to win the Plate since Norcliffe in 1974.
But in recent years, the 1 1/8-mile race has enjoyed a resurgence. For the past three years, the winner of the Plate Trial has gone on to win the Queen’s Plate. Not Bourbon, for owner Charles Fipke and trainer Roger Attfield, held off a late rally from Ginger Brew to win in 2008. Two years ago, Eye of the Leopard staved off a bid from Mr. Foricos Two U. Last year, Big Red Mike was most impressive in the Plate Trial and then rode a live rail to victory over Hotep in the Queen’s Plate to give conditioner Nicholas Gonzalez a thrill of a lifetime.
Prior to Not Bourbon, the first-place finisher of the Plate Trial went through a dry spell in terms of completing the Plate chore. You have to go back to 1992 before finding another that took the Plate and Plate Trial. His name was Alydeed.
This dynamic can be looked at from two perspectives. On the one side, it could be said that only four Plate Trial winners in 20 years have captured the Plate. On the flip side, the winner of the prep has generated the winner of the Plate for the past three years.
In terms of raw statistics, there have been 21 Plate Trial winners over the past 20 years (due to a dead-heat for win in 1991 between Bolulight and Megas Vukefalos). These 21 individuals have combined for a record of 4 wins, 6 seconds and a third-place finish. The other ten all ran and failed to hit the board.
Before moving on to the Marine, here is a reminder that we’re only considering wins in each of these preps and not the future Plate performances of the second or third place finishers. In fact, a review of the runner-up in the Plate Trial over the past 20 years does produce interesting results in comparison with the Plate Trial winner. Perhaps that’s for another post!
2011 winner: Queen’splatekitten
At face value, the Marine Stakes is a difficult gauge in terms of the Queen’s Plate because it’s an open race. Entrants are usually a mix of American-breds seeking black-type and Canadian-breds that are ready for a two-turn Plate prep as early as May. For many years it was the first two-turn stakes event for three-year-olds at Woodbine (until the Wando Stakes began a few years ago). In theory, the Marine is a more difficult race to win than the Plate Trial, but this isn’t always the case. Some years a third-place finish in the Marine would rate a Canadian-bred at the top of the Queen’s Plate list. Other years, a win in the Marine over an eclectic group of runners might need to be taken with a grain of salt: consider the example of Malakoff, who dusted his Marine rivals in 2006 by 7 ½ lengths but couldn’t stay with Edenwold in the Plate.
If recent history is any indication, then Queen’splatekitten has already locked up a spot on the Plate podium. The last seven Marine winners that went on to contest the Queen’s Plate have all hit the board. In the past 20 years, only two Canadian-bred Marine winners failed to miss the board. In 1995, Tethra won the Marine, but the prep proved to be his final career race. In 1991, Bolulight won the Marine and went on to a sixth-place finish in the Queen’s Plate.
2006: Malakoff, third in Queen’s Plate
2003: Wando, winner of Queen’s Plate
2002: Anglian Prince, 2nd in Queen’s Plate
2001: Win City, 2nd in Queen’s Plate
1995: Tethra, retired after Marine and did not run in Queen’s Plate
1993: Cheery Knight, 2nd in Queen’s Plate
1992: Alydeed, won the Queen’s Plate
1991: Bolulight, sixth in Queen’s Plate
So, Queen’splatekitten represents the 10th Canadian-bred to take the Marine in the past 21 editions. The eight Marine champs that preceded him have a collective record of three wins, three seconds and a third in the Plate.
Plate Trial winner in the Plate 21—4—6—1 (win percentage of 19% and an ITM% of 52%)
Marine winner in the Plate 9—3—3—2 (win percentage of 33% and an ITM% of 89%)
Head-to-Head – Plate Trial winner vs. Marine winner
So in 20 years, the Plate Trial winner has gone on to win the Plate on four occasions, and the Marine winner has gone on to score on three occasions, but from far fewer opportunities. Continuing the comparison between the two main preps (for colts and geldings) for the Queen’s Plate, how does the Plate Trial winner stack up when the Marine winner is present in the race?
Returning to our table above, it is worth pointing out that the last time a Marine winner was a Canadian-bred and went on to race in the Queen’s Plate was in 2006. In the meantime, the Plate Trial winner has put together a successful streak.
Is there any co-relation between the success of the Plate Trial winner and the presence of a Marine winner? Let’s see, going race by race.
2006 – Marine winner Malakoff was third, while the PT winner Pipers Thunder was sixth
2003 – Marine winner Wando wins the Plate, while PT winner Mobil finishes 2nd.
2002 – Marine winner Anglian Prince was 2nd in Plate, while PT winner Shaws Creek was sixth.
2001 – No comparison -- Marine winner Win City also won Plate Trial.
1996 – Marine winner Victor Cooley wins Plate, while PT winner was ninth.
1993 – Marine winner Cheery Knight was 2nd in Plate, while PT winner Circulation was sixth.
1992 – No comparison – Marine winner Alydeed was also PT winner.
1991 – No comparison – Marine winner Bolulight was also co-winner of Plate Trial
In the last two decades, there have been five head-to-head renewals, which is the scenario we have this year with Check Your Soul and Queen’splatekitten present. Each time, the Marine winner has finished in front of the Plate Trial winner.
Flipping this trend the other way, the numbers show that in the past 20 years, no Plate Trial winner has ever won the Queen’s Plate when the Marine winner has been present in the field, assuming they are not the same horse. It could be a fluke or it could say something more about the open nature of the competition and the timing that defines the Marine. Perhaps points worthy of further debate. In any event, it is interesting how the raw numbers have played out over the past two decades.
Later in the week, we’ll add the filly Inglorious into the mix and review the records of past winners of the Woodbine Oaks when they take on the colts and geldings of their generation in the Plate.