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Breeders' Cup 2017

Up With the Birds Ready to Soar in Queen's Plate

Up With the Birds, winner of the Marine Stakes, Woodbine Oaks winner Nipissing and Plate Trial victor Dynamic Sky head a field of 12 Canadian-bred three-year-olds for the $1 million Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most famous horse race, Sunday at Woodbine.

The 154th edition of the Plate, the oldest continuously run stakes race in North America, will be televised live on CBC-TV in HD (High Definition) in a special presentation from 4:30 – 6:00 pm ET.   Post time is 5:38 pm.  The Governor General of Canada, the Right Honourable David Johnston, will be the Royal Guest of Honour.

All starters carry 126 pounds, except two fillies – Nipissing and Spring in the Air, who will tote 121 pounds for the mile and one-quarter classic over Woodbine’s Polytrack.  The winner will receive $600,000. 

Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, a record-tying eight-time winner of the Queen’s Plate, will be the honorary drawmaster on Thursday.  The selection order for post positions will be drawn first via the traditional ‘pill-pull’, followed by the choosing of post positions by the connections for each horse, a system which has been in place for the Plate since 1998.

The morning line favourite at 2-1 is Sam-Son Farms’ homebred Up With the Birds, trained by Malcolm Pierce.   Sam-Son and Pierce also have another homebred hopeful, His Race to Win, a 10-1 outsider.

Sam-Son Farms has won five Plates – Regal Intention (1988), Dance Smartly (1991), Scatter The Gold (2000), Dancethruthedawn (2001) and Eye of the Leopard (2009).

Up With the Birds has never been worse than third in six career starts and comes into the Plate fresh off a four and three-quarter length score over Winning Cause in the mile and one-sixteenth Marine Stakes, May 26.    Last year, the bay colt, who has banked $370,641, also captured the Coronation Futurity, one of Canada’s richest races for two-year-olds.    

The Stormy Atlantic-Song of the Lark offspring will be ridden by Eurico Rosa da Silva, who won the 2009 Plate for Sam-Son aboard Eye of the Leopard, then took the 2010 renewal with Big Red Mike.

Last year’s Plate winner Strait of Dover also won the Marine en route to winning the Plate wire-to-wire.

His Race to Win, another Stormy Atlantic colt out of Fleet of Foot, just missed winning the Plate Trial on June 9, falling a nose short of Dynamic Sky.  The one-time winner will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez.

Chiefswood Stable’s Nipissing, a homebred daughter of Chiefswood’s 2004 Plate winner Niigon, is the 7-2 second choice.   Winner of the recent Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser on June 9, Nipissing is trained by Rachel Halden and will be ridden as usual by Steve Bahen, who steered T J’s Lucky Moon, the second longest shot to ever win the Plate at 82-1, to victory in 2002.

Nipissing, out of the mare Kiche, was undefeated in four starts last year, winning the prestigious Princess Elizabeth and South Ocean Stakes.   This year, the bay filly, who is the field’s second highest money earner with $634,430, began her season at Keeneland, finishing sixth to Emollient in the Grade 1 Ashland.   She returned home to finish second to Coffee Clique in the Selene, prior to her impressive tally in the Oaks, when she defeated Spring in the Air by three-quarters of a length in the mile and one-eighth filly classic, running the distance .25 seconds faster than Dynamic Sky, when he won the Trial a race earlier.

She will try to become the 35th filly to win the Plate since 1860, the seventh since 1956 and the sixth to win both the Oaks and the Plate, joining Flaming Page (1962), La Lorgnette (1985), Dance Smartly (1991), Dancethruthedawn (2001) and Inglorious (2011).

John Oxley’s Dynamic Sky, to be handled by North America’s leading rider Joel Rosario, is the 4-1 third choice.   The son of Sky Mesa-Murani won the Plate Trial on June 9 by a nose over His Race to Win for trainer Mark Casse, who will saddle four hopefuls in the ‘Gallop for the Guineas’, as the five-time Sovereign Award winner seeks his first Plate triumph.   Casse’s best finish was in 2011, with 61-1 longshot runner-up Hippolytus.  He also sends out Spring in the Air, Kaigun and Jagger M.

Dynamic Sky has earned $412,167 while winning three of 10 starts.  Earlier this year, he was on the Kentucky Derby trail, winning the Pasco Stakes and finishing second in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.  But subsequent efforts in the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass convinced his connections to aim for the Queen’s Plate instead.  Now he’ll try to become the 26th Plate Trial winner to win the Plate.  

Rosario is having a dream season around the globe.  He was aboard Animal Kingdom when winning the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race, in March, then piloted Orb to a Kentucky Derby victory in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville.  In June, he competed at the famed Royal Ascot meeting in England and won a two-year-old stakes race aboard No Nay Never.

Oxley also owns Spring in the Air, Canada’s champion two-year-old filly last year and the field’s leading money winner with $641,510.   The daughter of Spring At Last-Unbridled Run, listed at 10-1 in the morning line, was the runner-up to Nipissing in the Oaks.

Casse’s other starters are 20-1 Kaigun, a winner once in three starts for Gary Barber, Quintessential Racing and Horse’n Around Racing, with Justin Stein, who rode Strait of Dover to victory in last year’s Plate, and Gabe Grossberg’s Jagger M, also at 20-1, a one-time winner in six starts, with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard.
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Frostad, a four-time winner of the Plate (Victor Cooley in 1996; Scatter The Gold, 2000; Dancethruthedawn, 2001 and Eye of the Leopard, 2009) will send out a pair for different owners.

Pyrite Mountain, owned by Awesome Again Racing, is the 6-1 fourth choice and will be ridden by Woodbine’s leading rider and two-time Sovereign Award winner Luis Contreras, who rode the filly Inglorious to victory in the 2011 Plate.   The son of Silent Name-Gold Lined, who finished fourth to Dynamic Sky as the favourite in the Plate Trial, had previously beaten Uncaptured, Canada’s Horse of the Year for 2012, in the Wando Stakes on May 5.   Last year, he broke his maiden in the Kingarvie Stakes.

County Lineman, owned by Ginger Punch Racing, is another Silent Name colt and two-time winner who will be making his stakes debut.  Pegged at 30-1, County Lineman will be ridden by Alex Solis, who rode Oaks winner Irish Mission to a second place finish in last year’s Plate for Frostad.

Trainer Nick Gonzalez, who won the 2010 Plate with Big Red Mike, will send out two hopefuls for Tucci Stables - River Seven and Midnight Aria.

River Seven, to be piloted by two-time Plate winner Todd Kabel (Regal Discovery in 1995; Scatter The Gold, 2000), is listed at 20-1.   The son of Johannesburg stumbled badly at the start of the Plate Trial and eventually finished eighth, six and one-half lengths behind Dynamic Sky.  Last year, River Seven scored in the Grey Stakes, when defeating eventual Horse of the Year Uncaptured.

Midnight Aria, (15-1 with Jesse Campbell), finished third in the Plate Trial, beaten just one and one-quarter lengths, after setting the pace in the mile and one-eighth prep.   The son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute was a $35,000 claim at Gulfstream Park in January and has since won once, with four thirds for his new connections.

Completing the field is Mike and Nick Nosowenko’s Rackman, a 50-1 outsider and son of 2004 Plate winner Niigon, to be ridden by Jim McAleney, who enters off a maiden dead-heat win on June 1 in his stakes debut as well. 

Of the 12 starters in this year’s Plate, eight of them have connections (owner, trainer and/or jockey) who have previously won the Plate.  Only one horse in the field, Kaigun, did not start at two.   The last Plate winner unraced as a juvenile was Eye of the Leopard (2009).

The Queen’s Plate is the first leg in the Canadian Triple Crown.  The second leg is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, at one mile and three-sixteenths on Tuesday, July 30 at Fort Erie, while the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes, at one mile and one-half on the grass, August 18 at Woodbine, comprises the third and final leg.   There have been seven Triple Crown winners since the concept was inaugurated in 1959, the first being New Providence in 1959, the latest being Wando in 2003.

Since 1956, the stakes record for the Plate is 2:01 4/5, set by Izvestia in 1990, when he also won by the largest margin, 13 lengths.  Strait of Dover, the 2012 winner, owns the fastest Polytrack time, 2:01.99 since 2007.  The longest-priced winner in the modern era (since 1956) is T J’s Lucky Moon ($166) in 2002 while Maternal Pride is the highest-priced winner of all time, paying $193.35 in 1924.  Favourites have done well in the Plate since 1956, winning 22 of 57 renewals (38%).  However, Wando in 2003, and Eye of the Leopard in 2009, are the only favourites to win in the last 18 editions.

Four other stakes, three of them on the grass, will be part of the Queen’s Plate Day undercard – the $200,000 Dance Smartly, at one mile and one-eighth, the $200,000 Highlander at six furlongs and the $150,000 Singspiel at one and one-half miles while the $150,000 Clarendon Stakes at five and one-half furlongs will be on the Polytrack.   First race post time is 12:25 pm. 


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