Strait of Dover Streaks to Queen's Plate Win
Ridden by a confident Justin Stein for trainer Dan Vella, Canyon Farms' British Columbia homebred tallied by 1 1/4 lengths over the filly Irish Mission in the $978,340 event for 3-year-olds foaled in Canada. Irish Mission was attempting to become the second straight Woodbine Oaks winner to win the Queen's Plate following Inglorious in 2011.
The second filly in this year's opening jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, Dixie Strike, finished third.
Strait of Dover, sent off as the second choice at odds of 7-2, ran the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:01.99, eclipsing the Polytrack record of 2:012.18 set by Pachattack in November 2010. It was the fastest running of the Queen's Plate since 1990 when the main track was dirt. Strait of Dover won his fourth consecutive race, all on Woodbine's Polytrack.
Vella secured his second Queen's Plate, 18 years after saddling Basqueian for victory in 1994. Canyon Farms won its first Queen's Plate with its first starter.
“Good horses do good things,” Vella said. “We all like to take a little credit but truthfully he’s a great horse and that’s what it’s really about, the people that bred such a great horse and just being associated and being able to train these types of horses. It’s what us guys in this industry want to do."
Strait of Dover, the lone British Columbia-bred horse in the field, defeated 13 Ontario-breds. Stein, a 32-year-old native of New Westminster, B.C., earned his first Queen's Plate victory.
“I loved this horse all along,” said an elated Stein, whose previous best in the Queen's Plate was a fourth with Ascot Bill in 2006. “He has shown me and I have said it time and time again that he is a racehorse. He wants to get out here and he wants to win.
"He calmed right down as soon as he saw that we were going into the gate, and he just stood there for his turn to be loaded. That’s what he wants to do. I didn’t have to be on the lead with him today but no one else wanted to go, and we were going pretty easy so I just let him roll on up there.
"I have faith in this horse, and he just galloped around there like a champ.”
There was a bit of concern over the Queen's Plate festivities this year, and not just because of threatening skies that opened up after the race.
Nick Eaves, president and chief executive officer at Woodbine, announced at this year's post-position draw that the 2012 Queen's Plate, the oldest continuously run stakes in North America, could be the last. The Canadian racing industry is warning of disastrous results for the sport unless Ontario's provincial government reverses its position ending the successful slot machine program at the Toronto track.
Strait of Dover is a son of English Channel out of the Danzig mare Bahrain Star. The dark bay or brown colt was coming off a 6 1/2-length romp in Woodbine's Marine Stakes May 12. But he was forced to miss the Plate Trial three weeks later with a low blood count and had just one published workout between May 7 to June 10.
That naturally led some to question whether he would have the fitness to complete the 10 furlongs while toting 126 pounds, 11 more than he carried in the Marine. Strait of Dover had breezed five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 June 18, the third-fastest of 39 drills on the day at the distance.
An even break saw Strait of Dover, leaving from post 4, take a slight advantage over Colleen's Sailor, Classic Bryce, and Macho Whiskey while establishing a reserved pace. Strait of Dover led by one length after going a quarter-mile in :23.85 and maintained his advantage while clocking the half-mile in :47.74. After completing six furlongs in 1:12.31, Strait of Dover edged away leaving the backstretch.
But Colleen's Sailor, racing in second all the way to that point, made a bid early on the turn for Corey Nakatani, advancing to less than a length behind the leader on the outside. But Strait of Dover was ready, responding when given his head by Stein to reassume command at the quarter pole.
Strait of Dover took a two-length edge into the stretch, gradually extending it to 2 1/2 lengths, then held on firmly under some left-handed urging in the final furlong as Irish Mission, ridden by Alex Solis, rallied through the lane.
“Well, we talked about it with Justin and we analyzed the race and we thought it was a possibility we would end up on the front end," Vella said. "We really didn’t want that. You’re doing the work for everyone else, but if you’re there, you’re there.”
Irish Mission finished 3 3/4 lengths in front of Dixie Strike, who rallied belatedly for Patrick Husbands and was all out to land the show spot. She was the best finisher from a trio of starters for leading trainer Mark Casse, who was foiled once more in his attempt to claim Canada's most famous race.
Colleen's Sailor, who could have given trainer Roger Attfield a record ninth Queen's Plate win, held on for fourth in a strung-out finish.
River Rush, the Plate Trial winner by 5 1/4 lengths June 3, was the slight 7-2 favorite over Strait of Dover. But the Reade Baker trainee never got untracked from the inside after ducking in at the start and finished sixth, a head behind Ultimate Destiny.
Strait of Dover earned $585,600 for his fourth lifetime win in seven starts. He has now banked $749,628.
After beginning his career with a pair of unplaced showings at the bull ring at Hastings Racecourse last summer, the colt appeared to break his maiden Nov. 6 in his Polytrack debut. But he was disqualified from that nose victory at odds of 43-1 for drifting inward in the stretch and was placed third. He returned three weeks later to graduate by 1 1/2 lengths, concluding his juvenile campaign with one victory in four starts.
Strait of Dover returned to the action for his sophomore season April 22 with a front-running victory in a first-level allowance at Woodbine. In his next start, he won the Marine convincingly while ridden out by Stein, who has been aboard Strait of Dover in all of his Woodbine races.
The last horse to win the Plate gate-to-wire was Big Red Mike in 2010, and before him, Wando in 2003.
The winner paid $9.60, $5.80, $4.30 and topped a $108.40 exacta with Irish Mission. Robert S. Evans' daughter of Giant's Causeway returned $8.40 and $6.20 in her first start against males for trainer Mark Frostad, who was seeking his fifth Queen's Plate victory. Dixie Strike paid $5.50 and was part of a $551.50 trifecta. The $1 superfecta with Colleen's Sailor in fourth was worth $4,271.35.
The Canadian Triple Crown shifts to Fort Erie Race Track July 15 for the second jewel, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at 1 3/16 miles on dirt. The final race in the series is the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf Aug. 5 at Woodbine.
There have been seven Canadian Triple Crown winners since the concept was inaugurated in 1959, the most recent being Wando in 2003.
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