The Triple Crown in the United States concluded one month ago, but now it's Canada's turn to showcase their best 3 year olds. The historic Queen's Plate, North America’s longest continuously-run stakes race and first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, is set for its 154th consecutive edition Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. The $1 million Plate contains a field of twelve 3-year-olds, including the winners of the Coronation Futurity, Marine Stakes, Plate Trial and the Woodbine Oaks, that will "Gallop for the Guineas." The 1 1/4-mile classic goes off with an approximate post-time of 5:38 p.m.
A common thread for one of the main story lines attached to this year's prestigious Queen's Plate are the names Mark Casse, Malcolm Pierce, Mark Frostad and Nick Gonzalez. Together, the quartet could pass as a successful Toronto law firm. However, if you find yourself in legal trouble, these guys are not lawyers, but if your looking for someone to condition your horse, you've come to the right men, for they are successful equine trainers. All of their much heralded and deserving success throughout the past years has occurred operating independently as opposed to collectively. As a group though, the four horsemen account for 10 of the 12 runners in this year's event. Trainer Casse enters with a quartet of runners, while his three counterparts, each bring in a pair of entrants. Two of the trainers, Frostad and Gonzalez have combined to win the Plate five times, with the former garnering 4 of the victories.
Another top story will be the females. Oh my, let's not forget the ladies, for they will have representation in the Plate. Trainer Rachel Halden saddles a leading filly, while another top filly (trained by Casse) represents the lone Grade 1 winner in the race. Female equines have acquitted themselves quite well in the Queen's Plate, having won this race 34 times.
The second race in the series, the Prince of Wales Stakes, will be conducted at Fort Erie Racetrack, July 30th. A return to Woodbine on August 18th for the finale, the Breeders' Stakes, over the E.P. Taylor turf course, completes the trio of races.
Let's take a look at each runner from the rail out.
1-MIDNIGHT ARIA/Campbell/Gonzalez--Quite certain connections were not thinking Queen's Plate when they haltered this colt for $35k out of the maiden claiming ranks at Gulfstream Park late January. He won first start off the claim and continues to rapidly improve for Gonzalez. Despite four consecutive show finishes, where he has given up the lead in 3 of them, this horse has shown guts and determination battling right to the very end. His company lines in his last two feature top notch talented horses. Midnight Aria likes to be on the lead, so look for him to show the way. Is in very good form right now, so watch how the track is playing. If it's speed favoring, it could very well prove to be the difference.
2-DYNAMIC SKY/Rosario/Casse--This marks his 11th race and all of them have come in stakes races. Made it to the Breeders' Cup World Championship last fall, finishing 6th. Was once considered a Kentucky Derby prospect, but once that campaign didn't come to fruition, connections regrouped and pointed the horse toward this classic event. Last month, in his final prep for this affair, Dynamic Sky, under the guidance of Derby winning rider Joel Rosario, got up in the final moment to narrowly win the Plate Trial. Must respect the colt's talent and rider.
3-JAGGER M/Bridgmohan/Casse--Colt's debut came late in his juvenile season with a runner-up showing going five panels. Spent the winter down south in the states at Gulfstream Park searching for his maiden win, but that score didn't happen until the Keeneland meet got underway in April. The following month, he ran on nicely in the stretch of the 7 furlong Queenston Stakes to come from last place and finish second. Most recently, in his first test around two turns, he was a non-factor in the Plate Trial, trailing the field for much of the race before a mild gain landed him 6th. Needs a massive leap forward to win in here.
4-SPRING IN THE AIR/Boulanger/Casse--Reigning 2 yo champion filly was a G1 winner last season in Kentucky (Alcibiades) before heading west for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies race. She didn't fare well in that event ending up with a 5th place finish, and with it, her juvenile season was concluded. Finished second in her 2013 debut in a restricted stakes at Ocala in March, then was soundly beaten in the G1 Ashland. Like her stablemate, Dynamic Sky, this one's racing plans were also rerouted to attempt to take down this big prize. Last out in the Oaks, she was allowed to settle while trailing the field before picking it up in the middle of the far turn. She put herself into contention and came rolling down the center of the Woodbine strip with every opportunity to win, but came up three-quarters of a length short. Solid player with a nice pedigree for the 10 furlong distance.
5-COUNTY LINEMAN/Solis/Frostad--Garnered attention in his two juvenile starts at Woodbine. Closed ground late to finish second going 6 1/2 furlongs and then rallied from off the pace to win at seven furlongs. Both events were against Ontario-bred company. Following a three month absence, he was badly beaten in consecutive allowance races at Gulfstream and Keeneland respectively, before rebounding nicely to register a win and a third versus older Ontario-bred foes. In the latter event, he was sent over route a ground for the first time. Is outclassed against the top guns in here.
6-KAIGUN/Stein/Casse--Hopped out of the gate in his April debut at Keeneland which saw him trail early, but recovered nicely to finish in the front half of the field after settling into stride and circling the six wide. In his second lifetime start, he broke through into the win column with a strong run from off the pace in a 1 1/16-mile contest. In his last event, against seasoned rivals in the Plate Trial, his appearance may have been a case of asking to much of him too soon. He's light on experience, but the potential and upside is there. With that said, I look for a much better performance in here, but I don't expect it to be a winning one.
7-UP WITH THE BIRDS/Da Silva/Pierce--Made his debut here at Woodbine last summer finishing third in a six furlong maiden affair. Since then, he's had a very productive campaign, reeling off 4 of 5 wins, including 3 stakes victories, one of which was on the turf at the Fair Grounds. His only loss in the that stretch came two starts back when narrowly beaten a neck in the G3 Transylvania Stakes on opening day of Keeneland's spring meet. Last out, in the Marine Stakes, his final prep for the Plate, he put on a superior display of authority, winning by nearly five lengths. Has trained solidly in the six week interim. Deserving favorite who always runs his race.
8-RACKMAN/McAleney/Nosowenko--Exited the maiden ranks last month, winning in a dead-heat, but it took 9 attempts to finally succeed. Following the victory, a minor setback left his Plate status in doubt, and when a disappointing work last weekend was recorded, his trainer decided not to enter. However, by mid-week, Nosowenko reconsidered and the "green light" was granted. A most difficult spot for this gelding to make his stakes debut, as he gives away a ton of experience to rivals that are already proven at the level. Trainer has yet to notch a stakes win. Will probably have the distinction of being the longest priced odds. Sire (Niigon) won this race in 2004, but I don't foresee this colt replicating that feat.
9-NIPISSING/Bahen/Halden--Went a perfect 4 for 4 as a juvenile and finished 3rd in the voting for Canada's 2 yo filly of the year honors which was captured by Spring In The Air, who also sees action in here. This girl was an impressive Woodbine Oaks winner whose winning time was a tick faster then the boys in the Plate Trial the same day, and has been off the board just once in her seven starts that began with a four race winning streak. The unbroken run came to a halt in the G1 Ashland Stakes that was dominated by a runaway winner. That day, Nipissing finished 6th, but wasn't disgraced as she beat more than half the field, and was involved in a group of 5-horses from 2nd to 7th that were separated by less than 3 lengths. In recent year's, Woodbine Oaks winners have proven their worth in the Queen's Plate, and based on this gal's fashionable record, she is a legitimate threat to continue that trend.
10-PYRITE MOUNTAIN/Contreras/Frostad--He displayed early talent with a maiden win in the Kingarvie Stakes in just his second start of his juvenile year. In very impressive fashion, this colt made his Plate intentions well known when defeating Canada's 2012 Horse of the Year, Uncaptured, in the 4-horse Wando Stakes. In his last start, the Plate Trial, he broke from the rail post and after being pinned in down along the inside, he only had one opponent beaten after three-quarters. He was finally swung out four-wide late in the far turn and closed well, but was left with too much work to do. Galloped out strong, indicating the extra furlong should be well within his scope.
11-HIS RACE TO WIN/Velazquez/Pierce--Connections have basically alternated this colt's racing between turf and synthetic. He has performed admirably on both, but only winning once when scoring a maiden victory here two months ago. He almost made in two in a row, but was caught right on the line by Dynamic Sky in the Plate Trial. It certainly was a tough loss, but more importantly, it was a strong outing and positive progression. Both developments justify him returning for this contest.
12-RIVER SEVEN/Kabel/Gonzalez-- Was beaten by Uncaptured in both the Clarendon and Vandal stakes to begin his career, then two starts later broke his maiden by turning the tables on the then undefeated rival in the G3 Grey Stakes. Both 3 yo races have come with excuses.Wasn't fully cranked up in the Queenston Stakes, his initial 2013 outing after a seven month hiatus following a minor setback. In the Plate Trial, his early exertions after recovering from a bad stumble at the start to put himself in a contending position, left him empty when the stretch run came. His best speed figures match up well, and this marks his third start off a long layoff, often a horse's best. Must be afforded a solid chance.
Midnight Aria is the lone front-runner, who has been caught in the latter stages in his recent starts, but if the Woodbine polytrack on Sunday is playing hospitable to front-end speed, the main contenders in the field, many with similar closing styles, may find it difficult to run him down. He is worthy of a win wager if there is a speed bias.
If the Woodbine surface is playing fair at Plate time, lone speed could still be a dangerous assest, but class and late speed should prove toughest to deny. Several of the main contenders fit nicely on both categories, and I'll go with Pyrite Mountain as my top call.