This story appeared in the June 29 issue of The Blood-Horse
Gino Molinaro boasted a pocketful of winning tickets, Vito Armata was simply speechless, and Steven Bahen, well, he just considered himself lucky. Their reactions might have been different but the owner, trainer, and jockey had one thing in common: their gelding T J's Lucky Moon pulled off the second-biggest upset in Queen's Plate history on June 23 at Woodbine. The three-quarters of a length victory by 82-1 shot T J's Lucky Moon sent media types scrambling for the record books that confirmed only one Plate winner, Maternal Pride in 1924, paid more than the $166 mutuel that lit up Woodbine's tote board following T J's Lucky Moon's victory. "I can't help it if people don't bet the horse, it's not my fault," said a proud Molinaro, who also bred the 3-year-old son of Tejabo--Moonland Princess. The shocking result in the $1-million Plate (Canadian funds, about U.S. $650,000), à la Sarava's 70-1 score in the June 8 Belmont Stakes, was the second mind-boggling upset in a major North American horse race in two weeks. It was also one of the slowest Plates in modern history. T J's Lucky Moon's time for the 1-1/4 miles of 2:06.88 was the slowest since Golden Choice won the '86 Plate in the mud in 2:07.20 and the slowest on a track listed as 'fast' since the race was moved to the 'new' Woodbine in 1956. Royalty was the theme of the 143rd Plate as Woodbine and its fans paid tribute to one of its most beloved patrons, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who passed away in March at the age of 101.
And, the race had its first Royal visitors in five years as the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent witnessed the Plate from the 'royal box' and presented the trophy to the winners. Thirteen Canadian-bred 3-year-olds went to the post for the Plate on a sticky, humid, and windy afternoon after Bravely, another longshot son of Tejabo, was scratched the morning of the race by trainer Catherine Day-Phillips when the colt spiked a temperature. T J's Lucky Moon, who wasn't considered a Plate entrant until four weeks ago when he won a maiden race, ultimately made the Plate field when Molinaro's main Plate hopeful, Molly's Wisdom, began the season in poor form. Minutes before Plate post time, it was obvious bettors couldn't decipher the field. Early favorite Shaws Creek, who won the Plate Trial Stakes and seemed to have all the credentials of a Plate winner, floated up to the third betting choice while Sam-Son Farm's regally bred, but inexperienced colt Ford Every Stream, was hammered down to a ridiculous 2-1. Dom Romeo's popular gelding Classic Mike and Frank DiGiulio Jr. and Robert Tiller's speedy Forever Grand also took an inordinate amount of betting support in a race that was considered a wide open event.
Anglian Prince, owned by 82-year-old Leonard Prussky and trained by 75-year-old Mort Hardy, left the gate as an 11-1 overlay after being pegged at 4-1 in the morning line. The start of the race wasn't a smooth one for T J's Lucky Moon, who grazed the side of the gate and bobbled. Unfazed, jockey Bahen collected his horse up and angled him in from post nine, stalking longshot Streakin Rob, who was setting a slow early pace. Bahen moved the gelding to the front with a half-mile remaining. "I just threw (the reins) at him and let him be happy," said Bahen. "He was just galloping along. At the quarter pole, I just started calling on him and down the (stretch), I didn't hear anybody coming."
Anglian Prince, who started from post 12 and was committed to a very wide journey, mounted a late charge in deep stretch but came up short. Forever Grand, who was dueling T J's Lucky Moon into the Woodbine stretch, saved third, one length behind the runner-up and 1-1/2 lengths ahead of Ford Every Stream. Shaws Creek, who was wrangled back to 13th in the early stages of the race, finished sixth while Classic Mike ran out of steam in the stretch and was eighth. Molinaro emigrated to Canada from Italy 45 years ago and has raced a small stable of horses at Woodbine for 10 years. He's had stakes winners and even had a colt finish third in the Plate (Kristy Krunch in the '96 edition). Before that race, Molinaro declared that if he won the Plate, he'd visit Pope John Paul II. 'I'm going to wait until (the Pope) comes here," said Molinaro, referring to the upcoming papal visit to Toronto. "I'm going to have the biggest party in (the city of) Mississauga that horse racing's ever had!" For trainer Armata, a 20-year veteran at Woodbine, and jockey Bahen, who has been around almost as long, it was easily their biggest win in racing. "Sure I'm surprised," said Armata. " I don't know what to say. I know we had the freshest horse in the bunch." Bahen, who had only ridden T J's Lucky Moon on one other occasion, picked up the mount again when Todd Kabel was committed to Ford Every Stream. "I was ecstatic," said Bahen. "This is what you ride for, you want to win the Queen's Plate." T J's Lucky Moon, who was gelded after his second start as a 2-year-old because he was downright mean, was bought back by Molinaro from the 2000 Woodbine yearling sale for $27,000 (U.S.$18,234). Tejabo, a Deputy Minister stallion who has now sired five stakes winners in seven crops of racing age, was relocated from Ontario to British Columbia two years ago and stands for a $1,500 fee at Crown West Farms in Chilliwack. Armata said T J's Lucky Moon will make his next start in the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes on July 21. A record $2,002,940 was wagered on the Plate alone (up from $1.3 million in 2001).(Chart, Equibase)