Strait of Dover, on a three-race win streak for trainer Dan Vella, has been installed as the slight 3-1 morning line favorite for the 153rd renewal of the Queen's Plate, Canada's most famous race.
Contested at Woodbine June 24, the $1 million event attracted 14 well-matched Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds. Canyon Farms' homebred Strait of Dover, who drew post 4 in the 1 1/4-mile Polytrack test, is the lone British Columbia-bred horse in the field. The other entrants, including fillies Dixie Strike and Irish Mission, were bred in Ontario. All contestants carry 126 pounds except for the two fillies. They receive a five-pound allowance.
This year's Queen's Plate, the oldest continuously run stakes in North America, is carded as race 10 with a 5:36 p.m. EDT probable post. It will be televised live in Canada on CBC-TV in high definition as a special presentation from 4:30 to 6 p.m., and will also be carried live on TVG in the United States.
There are five supporting stakes on the program, including the $200,000 Highlander (Can-IIT), the $250,000 King Edward Presented by TVG (Can-IIT), and the $150,000 Singspiel (Can-IIIT), all on turf.
Strait of Dover heads the field following a 6 1/2-length romp in his stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile Marine over the Polytrack May 12. The son of English Channel out of the Danzig mare Bahrain Star began the year with a front-running first-level allowance victory April 22 at Woodbine. He started his current win streak by breaking his maiden in his fourth start Nov. 26, which concluded his juvenile campaign. Justin Stein, seeking his first Queen's Plate victory, figures to have Strait of Dover forwardly placed.
Forced to miss the June 3 Plate Trial Stakes because of sickness, Strait of Dover has trained well since leading up to the "Gallop for the Guineas." He breezed five furlongs over the Polytrack in 1:00 2/5 June 18, third best of 39 works at the distance that day.
Vella previously won the Queen's Plate in 1994 with Basqueian.
Second favorite River Rush, at 4-1 on the early line, seeks to become the third Plate winner for Stronach Stables. Stronach previously won with Basqueian and in 1997 with Awesome Again .
River Rush became one of the favorites after pulling an eye-catching 21-1 upset in the Plate Trail Stakes June 3. Breaking from the far outside in the field of 11, the son of Orientate rallied from last in the nine-furlong test along the inside to sweep past his competition by 5 1/4 lengths in spite of brushing the rail in the homestretch. The bay colt has drawn the rail for his return for trainer Reade Baker. James McAleney will be aboard once again.
Twenty-five previous Plate Trial winners have won the main event, including Big Red Mike in 2010 and and Eye of the Leopard in 2009. Last year's Trial winner, Check Your Soul, finished seventh.
Baker, whose best previous Plate result was a third-place finish with Gold Strike in 2005, will also send out Harlequin Ranches’ Macho Whiskey, a maiden winner from three starts. The son of Macho Uno will be ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson, the only female jockey to win the Plate with Mike Fox in 2007.
Trainer Mark Casse sends out three runners with strong possibilities in search of his first Queen's Plate triumph: third choice Golden Ridge (6-1), fourth pick Dixie Strike (8-1), and outsider Making Amends (20-1).
“It’s been a long climb, like climbers trying to get to Mount Everest," said Casse, whose previous best in the Queen's Plate was a second with Hippolytus last year. "I feel like I’m up near the peaks but I just can’t seem to get there. So maybe this will be the year. I think we have two very legitimate chances and one outside chance.”
Eugene Melnyk's homebred Golden Ridge broke his maiden in his Woodbine debut at 1 1/16 miles by 2 1/2 lengths May 13. It was the third start overall -- all this year -- for the Distorted Humor colt who was an odds-on choice in his victory. Luis Contreras, who won the 2011 Queen's Plate aboard the filly Inglorious, has ridden Golden Ridge in all of his races.
Contreras said he is very confident in Golden Ridge.
“I really love this horse," he said. "He’s only had three starts and last time he won very easily. I think he can run all day.”
The filly Dixie Strike, an easy winner in the Selene Stakes (Can-III) May 13, disappointed when fifth as the 9-10 choice in the Woodbine Oaks June 3. Always in contention with Patrick Husbands aboard, John Oxley's daughter of Dixie Union flattened out in the stretch to finish 2 1/2 lengths behind Plate rival Irish Mission. Dixie Strike, a lifetime winner of four of nine starts with a field-best $497,561 in earnings, will wear blinkers for the first time.
“Obviously, you’ve got to like Golden Ridge," Casse said. "He’s an up and comer. He’s got the pedigree that is impeccable, as does Dixie Strike. Unfortunately, Dixie Strike doesn’t always come with her 'A' game. If she comes with it, she’ll be right there.”
Making Amends, a stakes winner at 2, has dropped nine consecutive races and is coming off a sixth-place showing in the Plate Trial.
“I think Making Amends will be up closer than the others," Casse said. "I never try to predict what (Husbands, aboard Dixie Strike) is going to do because that’s an impossible prediction. I see (Contreras, aboard Golden Ridge) probably towards the middle or maybe up a little further.”
“Nobody’s gone a mile and a quarter before," he noted. "If the pace is very slow, it’s going to be harder to get your horses further back.”
Irish Mission (10-1), trained by four-time Plate winner Mark Frostad for owner Robert Evans, is on the far outside. She enters the race off a surprising victory in the Woodbine Oaks at 9-1 when she decisioned Northern Passion and Awesome Fire by three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/8-mile classic for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.
To be ridden once again by Alex Solis, the daughter of Giant's Causeway , who also sired Plate winner Mike Fox, will try to become the 35th filly to win the Plate since the beginning in 1860. She could also become the sixth to win both the Oaks and the Plate, joining Flaming Page (1962, later the dam of Nijinsky II), La Lorgnette (1985), Dance Smartly (1991), Dancethruthedawn (2001) and Inglorious (2011).
Also notable is Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, seeking a record ninth Plate win with Colleen's Sailor (15-1). Currently tied at eight victories with Harry Giddings Jr., Attfield last won the Queen's Plate in 2008 with Not Bourbon. Corey Nakatani, who was aboard the son of Northern Afleet when he won a first level allowance at nine furlongs last month at Woodbine for owner Terra Di Sienna Stables, retains the mount.
Pegged at 10-1 is Green Hills Farm’s Big Creek, trained by Todd Pletcher. Big Creek comes off a fourth-place finish in the Plate Trial and has one victory in seven starts. The son of Indian Charlie will be handled for the first time by one of North America’s leading riders, Ramon Dominguez. Pletcher trained 1998 Plate winner Archers Bay.
Classic Bryce (12-1), owned and bred by Bill Sorokolit, finished third in the Plate Trial and was the runner-up to Strait of Dover in the Marine. Trained by Darwin Banach, the son of Grand Slam will be ridden for the first time by Todd Kabel, who has won the Plate twice: with Regal Discovery in 1995 and Scatter the Gold in 2000. Sorokolit bred and co-owned 1997 Plate runner-up Cryptocloser.
Trainer Josie Carroll will send out a second Melnyk runner in Wilcox, a winner once in only two starts.
The Queen’s Plate is the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown. The second is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, at 1 3/16 miles July 15 at Fort Erie. Concluding the series is the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes at 12 furlongs on the grass Aug. 5 at Woodbine. 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.
$1 Million Queen's Plate (Race 10, 5:36 p.m.), 3YOs Foaled in Canada, 1 1/4 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. River Rush (ON), J McAleney, R Baker, 4/1
2. Peyton (ON), J R Leparoux, M J Doyle, 20/1
3. Macho Whiskey (ON), E Wilson, R Baker, 15/1
4. Strait of Dover (BC), J Stein, D J Vella, 3/1
5. Classic Bryce (ON), T Kabel, D D Banach, 12/1
6. Wilcox (ON), T Pizarro, J Carroll, 20/1
7. Golden Ridge (ON), L Contreras, M E Casse, 6/1
8. Ultimate Destiny (ON), S R Bahen, M Keogh, 20/1
9. Colleen's Sailor (ON), C S Nakatani, R L Attfield, 15/1
10. Dixie Strike (ON), P Husbands, M E Casse, 8/1
11. Making Amends (ON), E R Da Silva, M E Casse, 20/1
12. Big Creek (ON), R A Dominguez, T A Pletcher, 10/1
13. Washington Dash (ON), R Maragh, D Miller, 50/1
14. Irish Mission (ON), A O Solis, M R Frostad, 10/1
All carry 126 pounds, except fillies Dixie Strike and Irish Mission, who carry 121.
Blinkers On: Dixie Strike