Six-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer Mark Casse earned an elusive first victory in the $1 million Queen's Plate (VIDEO), Canada's most famous race, when his filly Lexie Lou came from off the pace to score by 1 1/2 lengths July 6 at Woodbine.
"I've been following the Queen's Plate since I was a little boy and so to finally win it, I just pinch myself," Casse said. "I thought we'd win it sooner or later. I knew I wasn't going to give up."
A confident Patrick Husbands guided the daughter of Sligo Bay to victory from post 14 in a field of 15 Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds Sunday. She was the lone filly in the 155th renewal of the Queen's Plate and was sent off as the 3-1 second choice.
Lexie Lou took a narrow lead from pacesetter Asserting Bear at the top of the stretch and opened up on the field in the final furlong as she won impressively under Husbands, who threw un underhand punch in the direction of the crowd as they passed the finish line. The winning time for the 1 1/4-mile Polytrack test was 2:03.94.
Ami's Holiday was second, with Asserting Bear third. We Miss Artie, the 19-10 favorite in the big field, reared at the start and was last out of the gate. After looming into contention rounding the final turn, he flattened out in the stretch and finished fourth.
Lexi Lou is the second filly in the past four years to win the Queen's Plate and the 35th to accomplish the feat since 1860.
Purchased privately by Gary Barber this spring and turned over to Casse, Lexie Lou signaled her ability with a smashing 4 1/2-length win in the Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser June 15. Her winning time for 1 1/8 miles that day was 1:49.77, a full second faster than We Miss Artie ran in winning the Plate Trial a race earlier.
Lexi Lou became the sixth filly to record the Woodbine Oaks/Queen's Plate double, joining Flaming Page (1962), La Lorgnette (1985), Dance Smartly (1991), Dancethruthedawn (2001) and Inglorious (2011).
She previously ran for owner/trainer John Ross, earning $310,244 as a 2-year-old with three victories in eight starts. A $5,577 purchase by Ross at the 2012 Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (Ontario Division) Canadian-bred yearling sale, she was sold to Barber after her first start this year. Paradox Farm bred the winner in Ontario out of the winning In Excess mare Oneexcessivenite.
"I don't think I believe it quite yet," said an elated and somewhat emotional Casse, who also started Matador (seventh) and Majestic Sunset (15th). "Maybe tomorrow. It was thrilling. It was really nice to have my family here. My son Colby started crying afterwards, and caused me to cry. It's a great day."
Husbands won his second Queen's Plate after previously delivering Wando to a Canadian Triple Crown sweep in 2003.
"I called everybody in Barbados on Saturday to say I was coming home to celebrate the Queen's Plate," said Husbands, a native of Bridgetown. "Everybody left (the gate) running. My filly was so relaxed. I had so much confidence in her going into this race. I begged Mark at the (post position) draw, I just want the outside (Casse wound up choosing post 14).
"It's an honor and a pleasure to ride for these connections and Mark. I won this Queen's Plate for you."
Lexie Lou, who carried 121 pounds—five fewer than her male rivals—paid $8.20, $4.50, and $3.30 while keying a $63.90 exacta. Amie's Holiday returned $9.70 and $5.80, while Asserting Bear was $6 to show. The $2 trifecta was worth $387.40, while the $1 superfecta with We Miss Artie came back $695.80.
With her wide starting berth, Lexie Lou was relaxed early in ninth as Asserting Bear and Coltimus Prime fought for the early lead with Cap in Hand and Majestic Sunset also prominent through the stretch the first time. Quarter mile splits were :23.23, :47.09, and 1:11.54 for six furlongs as Asserting Bear and Chantal Sutherland Kruse forged a one-length lead over Coltimus Prime.
Sixth at that point, Lexie Lou moved up on the outside into the far turn to advance into second at the quarter pole. She came in and bumped slightly with Asserting Bear in upper stretch, then took over when set to the drive by Husbands.
In front by half a length at the eighth pole, Lexie Lou lengthened stride to win impressively. The slow starting Ami's Holiday, angling to the rail past midstretch for running room, came home gamely for Luis Contreras to finish second over the weakening Asserting Bear.
"I had a perfect trip, it couldn't have been any better," said Contreras. "We didn't need to be on the lead and I could see all of the horses from the outside position. My horse gave a tremendous kick and we almost got there."
It was 5 3/4 lengths farther back to We Miss Artie, who was followed by Niigon Express, Lions Bay, Matador, Heart to Heart, Coltimus Prime, Athenian Guard, Cap in Hand, One Destiny, Man o' Bear, Tower of Texas, and Majestic Sunset.
"I think with the big field, my horse got a little nervous in the gate," said jockey Javier Castellano of We Miss Artie. "He completely sat down behind the gate. That's why he broke straight in the air. It took a lot out of him. He was too far behind; I lost a lot of ground going around horses."
Lexie Lou, a close third in her first start for Casse in the Fury Stakes May 10, ran her career mark to 5-2-2 in 12 races with earnings of $1,172,658. The winner's share for the Queen's Plate was $563,220.
The Queen’s Plate, the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown, is to be followed by the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at 1 3/16 miles July 29 at Fort Erie. The series concludes with the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes, over 1 1/2 miles on the Woodbine grass Aug. 17. Wando is the most recent Canadian Triple Crown winner.
"I was as confident as you can be," Casse said. "But there's so many things that have to go right. And there's so many things that can go wrong. But we were fairly confident. We'll see (about running in the Prince of Wales). It's a possibility."