In spite of drifting out in the stretch, favored Eye of the Leopard edged past front-running Mr. Foricos Two U in the final strides to win the $883,819 Queen's Plate (VIDEO), the opening leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, by a neck June 21 at Woodbine.
The homebred son of A.P. Indy gave owner Sam-Son Farms its fifth Queen's Plate win. Sam-Son won previously with Dancethruthedawn (2001), Scatter The Gold (2000), Dance Smartly (1991), and Regal Intention (1988).
Thirteen Canadian-bred 3-year-olds contested the 1 1/4-mile event over Woodbine's Polytrack, with Plate Trial winner Eye of the Leopard the 2-1 favorite over the fillies Milwaukee Appeal and Tasty Temptation, the first two finishers in the Woodbine Oaks (Can-I) two weeks ago.
With winning jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva aboard in his first Queen's Plate (Can-I), Eye of the Leopard was forwardly placed as Reservoir and Mr. Foricos Two U dueled for the lead through quarter-mile fractions of :24, :48 and 1:12 4/5. Reservoir began to drop back after that as Eye of the Leopard, Milwaukee Appeal and Tasty Temptation all moved into position on the far turn to challenge Mr. Foricos Two U.
Racing on the inside for Mike Smith, Mr. Foricos Two U tenaciously held on all the way down the lane. Eye of the Leopard was gradually getting to the leader but was drifting from mid-stretch under left-handed urging, forcing Milwaukee Appeal to alter course slightly to challenge from between horses. Eye of the Leopard was determined, however, and after straightening his path in deep stretch, proved best in a three-horse finish. The final time was 2:03.84.
"He (Eye of the Leopard) was traveling very comfortably, he just kept going at that pace, he got the job done, that is the most important thing," said Rosa da Silva, a 33-year-old Brazilian native who has been campaigning successfully at Woodbine since 2004. "I am the happiest man in the world."
Mr. Foricos Two U headed Milwaukee Appeal and Stewart Elliot by a head for second, with Tasty Temptation settling for fourth, 2 3/4 lengths farther back.
Smith, who was aiming for his second Plate win after guiding Awesome Again to victory in 1997, said he didn't expect to be on the lead with Mr. Foricos Two U.
"But warming up, I kind of thought that was going to happen. He was very much on his toes. When he got his head in front, he really relaxed. That was a big key. Before that, he was taking a pretty big pull. Finally, I had to let him out a little bit. It was a gallant effort in defeat. I thought if Eye of the Leopard had been on my hip instead of Milwaukee Appeal, maybe I would have held him off. He didn't see him out there."
Morning line favorite Milwaukee Appeal was boxed in at the head of the stretch and finished willingly when she found running room between horses inside the final furlong.
Trainer Mark Frostad won his fourth Plate, including the most recent three for Sam-Son. He also took the 1996 running with Victory Cooley. Eye of the Leopard, who did not race as a 2-year-old, joined Scatter The Gold and Awesome Again (1997) as recent Plate winners who did not compete as a juvenile.
For Sam-Son Farm, which suffered from the deaths over a year ago of Liza Samuel, wife of founder Ernie Samuel, and their daughter Tammy Samuel-Balaz, the victory signaled a return to glory for the traditional powerhouse in Canadian racing.
"We have been waiting for this day for a long time," said owner Mark Samuel, son of Ernie and brother of Tammy. "We have had some tragic things happen to our family over the last year, and we had some spirits up above cheering that horse (Eye of The Leopard) home today. It is a special day for the family and we are going to savour this for a long time."
"Well, it wasn't nearly as exciting as I had hoped," joked Frostad. "But we managed to win the race. It was very nice. The horse ran a super race. Mr. Foricos Two U ran a super race. (Jockey) Mike Smith was trying to steal it from us, but we got there."
Eye of the Leopard is out of the Smart Strike mare Eye of the Sphnyx, who won the 2004 Woodbine Oaks and a Sovereign Award as Canada’s top 3-year-old filly that year.
The Ontario-bred bay colt debuted April 15 with an eighth-place finish in a maiden special race at Keeneland April 15 and has won three races in a row since, all at Woodbine. He captured the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial May 31 in eye-catching fashion, rallying five deep to edge Southdale by a neck.
The winning purse, $538,600, increased Eye of the Leopard's earnings to $660,678.
The second favorite in the past 15 years to win the Queen's Plate, Eye of the Leopard paid $6.70, $4.10, and $2.90. Mr. Foricos Two U, ridden for the first time by Smith, returned $7.20 and $4.60 in his stakes debut for trainer Catherine Day-Phillips. The $2 exacta was worth $56.10. Milwaukee Appeal, a 3 3/4-length winner in the Woodbine Oaks, was $3.70 to show.
Tasty Temptation was followed by Flip for the Coin, Keion West, Shut It Down, Rapid Release, Stardust Ziggy, Bucephalus, Reservoir, Active Duty, and El Brujo.
The second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 12, is contested over 1 3/16 miles on a dirt track. The race of the series is the Breeders' Stakes, at 12 furlongs over Woodbine's E.P. Taylor Turf Course on Aug. 2.