For those of who you that insist there is little point to talking about potential Kentucky Derby horses six months out, you might want to stop reading right now. The Canadian version of the Run for the Roses, the Queen’s Plate, is even farther away on the racing calendar. The 154th running of Canada’s oldest thoroughbred race will not take place until late June or early July next year. Restricted to the best 17 three-year-olds foaled in Canada, it generally is hard enough to pick the winner on race day, let alone more than half a year away, but after yesterday, there will be at least one colt that I will be following closely in the long lead-up to the nation to the North’s most important race. His name is Up With the Birds.
Making his stakes debut in the nine-furlong Coronation Futurity, the well bred son of Stormy Atlantic was sent off as the 6-5 second choice in the field of six. Favoritism fell narrowly to the more experienced Star Contender, who was coming off an easy win in the recent Cup and Saucer Stakes. Ridden patiently by jockey Eurico da Silva, the grandson of champion female, Wilderness Song, who herself finished second in the 1991 Queen’s Plate, Up With the Birds was content to bide his time at the back of the pack. In last early, but never too far behind, horse and rider waited confidently for Star Contender to make his move on the turn, and when he did, the response was immediate and decisive.
Up With the Birds quickly collared his main rival, and despite resistance from the favorite, had little trouble in putting him away in mid-stretch, to draw off by an impressive 3 ½ length margin at the wire, with the rest of the field far behind. Da Silva brought him home under a hand ride, and while the 1:51 clocking over Woodbine's Polytrack main course may not seem like much, it actually marked the second fastest time in the race in the past twenty years. The final time also compares well with older stakes males who ran 1:44 and change for a sixteenth of a mile less, two races later in the card.
With the victory in the $250,000 affair, Up With the Birds raised his record to 3-2-0-1. He had broken his maiden in similar fashion six weeks earlier. Showing an appreciation for the stretch-out, he won the maiden contest by an easy 3 ½ lengths after dropping back to last in the early stages on that day as well. In his career debut, Ontario-bred homebred finished a fast charging third in a six-furlong, also at Woodbine.
For owner and breeder, Sam-Son Farms, the victory marked their sixth victory in the Coronation Futurity. Interestingly, the powerhouse Canadian operation has also taken home five editions of the Queen’s Plate, but none of them had won the Coronation Futurity the fall before. Trainer Malcolm Pierce, meanwhile, celebrated his initial victory in the important juvenile race, and is already thinking ahead with his talented colt.
"I hope next June or July he can go a mile and a quarter, but there's a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and then," said Pierce.
There’s obviously a lot of time between next summer, but Up With the Birds, who won the Coronation Futurity so impressively yesterday at Woodbine, now joins multiple stakes winner, Uncaptured, as the winter book favorites for the 2013 Queen’s Plate ... that is, if you are in to that sort of thing.
Photo courtesy of WEG Michael Burns Photography