Strait of Dover, River Rush and Irish Mission head a well-matched field of 14 Canadian-bred three-year-olds for the C$1 million Queen's Plate, Canada's most famous horse race, Sunday at Woodbine.
The Queen's Plate, the oldest continuously run stakes race in North America, is the first leg in the Canadian Triple Crown. The second leg is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, at 1 3/16 miles on July 15 at Fort Erie, while the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, going 1 1/2 on the grass back at Woodbine on August 5, 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 and the latest being Wando in 2003.All starters in Sunday's 153rd edition of the Plate carry 126 pounds, except two fillies -- Irish Mission and Dixie Strike, who will tote 121 pounds.The morning line favorite for the 1 1/4-mile classic, which will take place over Woodbine's Polytrack, is Strait of Dover, trained by Dan Vella. The son of English Channel has won his last three starts, including the May 12 Marine Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths. The last horse to win the Marine and then take the Plate was eventual Triple Crown champion Wando in 2003.
Forced to miss the June 3 Plate Trial because of sickness, Strait of Dover has trained well since leading up to the "Gallop for the Guineas" and will be ridden by Justin Stein.
River Rush, trained by Reade Baker, will try to become the 26th Plate Trial winner to win the Plate. The three-year-old son of Orientate broke his maiden in impressive fashion at 21-1 in the June 3 Trial, hugging the rail all the way around and exploding in the stretch to win by a going away 5 1/4 lengths in just his third career start.
River Rush will be ridden by Jim McAleney, who is looking for his first Plate win after twice finishing the runner-up with I And I (2000) and Anglian Prince (2002).
Baker, whose best previous Plate result was a third-place finish with Gold Strike in 2005, will also send out Macho Whiskey, a one-time winner in only three starts. The son of Macho Uno will be ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson, who is the only female jockey to win the Plate, doing so in 2007 with Mike Fox.
Irish Mission, trained by Mark Frostad, enters the Plate off a surprising victory in the June 3 Woodbine Oaks when, as a 9-1 shot, she outgamed Northern Passion and Awesome Fire in the 1 1/8-mile classic for Canadian-bred three year old fillies. To be ridden once again by Alex Solis, the daughter of Giant's Causeway 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).
Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield is seeking a record ninth Plate win with Colleen's Sailor. Currently tied at eight victories with Harry Giddings Jr., Attfield last won the Plate in 2008 with Not Bourbon and on Sunday will give a leg up to Corey Nakatani aboard Colleen's Sailor. The rider teamed up with the son of Northern Afleet when he won a 1 1/8-mile allowance test last month at Woodbine.
Trainer Mark Casse will send out three Plate hopefuls -- Dixie Strike, Golden Ridge and Making Amends -- as the four-time Sovereign Award winner seeks his first Plate triumph. Last year, he also saddled three horses, with 61-1 shot Hippolytus finishing second.
Dixie Strike is the field's leading money winner with a bankroll of $500,260 but most recently disappointed with a fifth-place finish in the Woodbine Oaks as the 4-5 favorite. The daughter of Dixie Union, who won the Florida Oaks earlier this year on turf, will wear blinkers for the first time in the Plate and will be ridden by Patrick Husbands.
Golden Ridge, to be ridden by Luis Contreras, comes off a convincing maiden score on May 13 in just his third career start. The homebred son of Distorted Humor earlier finished second at Keeneland and third at Gulfstream Park on the turf. Making Amends won the Clarendon Stakes in his two-year-old debut, but is winless in nine starts since. The son of Repent ran sixth in the Plate Trial last out.
The Queen's Plate field is completed by Classic Bryce, who finished third in the Plate Trial and was runner-up in the Marine; Big Creek, who enters off a fourth-place finish in the Plate Trial; Wilcox, a winner once in only two starts trained by last year's Plate-winning trainer, Josie Carroll; Peyton, most recently fifth in the Plate Trial; Ultimate Destiny, second last year in the Kingarvie Stakes; and Washington Dash, who will try to become the first maiden to win the Plate since Scatter the Gold in 2000.
Three turf stakes -- the Grade 2, C$250,000 King Edward at one mile, the Grade 2, C$200,000 Highlander at six furlongs and the Grade 3, C$150,000 Singspiel at 1 1/2 miles -- as well as the C$150,000 My Dear Stakes and C$100,000 Trillium Stakes on the Polytrack will be part of the Queen's Plate undercard.