Full Plate

This article appeared in the June 29 issue of The Blood-Horse
Racing fans in Canada are accustomed to seeing a distinguished man dressed in a top hat and morning coat leading his victorious horse into the infield winner's circle following the nation's most prestigious race, the Queen's Plate. That's been the tradition of North America's longest continually run stakes, held for the first time June 27, 1860.

Three of Canada's leading racing and breeding operations have dominated the race over the last half century. Windfields Farm has taken the Plate seven times, Kinghaven Farms five, and Sam-Son Farm four, including the two most recent renewals.

Members of England's Royal Family are often on hand to present the winning trophy. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who died earlier this year at the age of 101, attended the Queen's Plate on eight occasions between 1939 and 1989. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent were on hand this year. The morning coat and top hat set are always careful to follow protocol when addressing royalty.

But tradition and protocol were thrown out the window this year when T J's Lucky Moon, owned and bred by Italian immigrant Gino Molinaro, staged a Sarava-sized upset, jumping out of a maiden victory into the hearts and minds of the "little guys" who usually can only dream of the kind of glory the Queen's Plate brings.

Molinaro, owner of a frozen food wholesale business and looking like one of its best customers, isn't a top hat and morning coat kind of guy. Burning up from the heat of the moment, not to mention temperatures in the 90s and high humidity, Molinaro shed his sports jacket and took the gelded son of Tejabo on a mini-victory lap in front of the stands on the Woodbine track, thrusting his fist into the air to the delight of the fans, only a scattering of whom could have been holding winning tickets.

Then, during winner's circle ceremonies, the jubilant owner--gasp!--tossed protocol aside, greeting the princess by holding and kissing both of her hands and giving Prince Michael an enthusiastic handshake. It was all Molinaro could do to keep from smothering them with the type of bear hugs he gave to everyone else in the vicinity.

It was a page from the Frank Sinatra songbook, one observer pointed out. "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you're young at heart," Carolyn Leigh and Johnny Richards wrote in the title song Sinatra sang for his 1954 movie Young at Heart.

The story of T J's Lucky Moon is a fairy tale--and one for the little guys. Moonland Princess, the dam of the Plate winner, had humble beginnings, racing for a claiming tag first time out of the blocks and not winning until her seventh start in 1991 after dropping from $40,000 to $8,000 maiden claiming. She won twice the following year, and on April 23, 1993, hit bottom for a $5,000 tag at Greenwood. Molinaro, relatively new to the game, took a chance on this daughter of 1984 Queen's Plate winner Key to the Moon, and put in a claim. She won on the rise for him several times and even jumped up to score in allowance company in 1994, ending her career with 10 wins from 52 starts and earnings of $146,097. That same year, Sardula, a half-sister to the dam of Moonland Princess, won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), giving Molinaro hope there might be some class in his filly's family.

T J's Lucky Moon was no quick study, either. The gelding failed to hit the board in his initial five starts, but won easily by 2 1/2 lengths the first time he was stretched out beyond seven furlongs. That victory came May 25, one month before the Plate. It was quite a leap forward for Molinaro and trainer Vito Armata to go from there to the winner's circle following the Queen's Plate. But that's the stuff dreams and fairy tales are made of.