Rick Samuels

Shakhimat Tops Six-Horse Plate Trial Field

Colt is winter book favorite for Queen's Plate.

Shakhimat, the winter book favorite for the Queen’s Plate for Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, tops the six-horse field for the June 12 $150,000 Plate Trial Stakes at 1 1/8 miles over the Tapeta all-weather track at Woodbine Racetrack. Attfield will be seeking a record ninth victory in the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most famous race, when the race is run July 3.

A dark bay son of Lonhro, Dan Gale and Richard Hogan’s Shakhimat has won three of five career starts including a 9 3/4-length romp in the Coronation Futurity at Woodbine last November and gate-to-wire victory in the grade III Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland.

Shakhimat broke his maiden in his career debut at seven furlongs on the Woodbine main and then switched to the turf to finish third in the Cup and Saucer Stakes won by Conquest Enforcer. He completed his juvenile season with a front-running triumph in the Coronation Futurity.

The colt bred in Ontario by Adena Springs wintered at Payson Park in Florida and made his seasonal debut April 8 in the Transylvania. Previous to the Plate Trial, Shakhimat finished ninth after dueling through swift splits in the grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, who has been aboard Shakhimat through all five career starts, said there were several reasons for the off-the-board effort in the American Turf.

“It was a big race day and that was something for him to take in. He shipped in from Keeneland to run and that was new for him as well. Churchill was new to him and the pace was a little bit quicker and he was keen racing on the outside in the first portion,” Wilson said.

Amis Gizmo, a son of Giant Gizmo  trained by Josie Carroll for owner-breeder Ivan Dalos, was undefeated in four starts at age 2, including wins in the Bull Page, Frost King, and Kingarvie Stakes, all in front-running style.

The colt was fifth in his seasonal debut in the 1 1/16-mile Wando Stakes and will be getting an equipment change in the Plate Trial that jockey Luis Contreras believes will help make up for his Wando defeat.

“We changed the bit on him to see if we can get him to relax a little bit more in the race because he always wants to go to the lead,” said Contreras. “If somebody else comes up beside him, he's so aggressive. We've been working on that and we’ll see what happens.  If he wants to be on the lead, that's no problem, but I'll have more control with the new bit.”

Battery, a son of Bernardini trained by Todd Pletcher for Harrell Ventures, finished fourth in a 1 1/16-mile maiden  test at Woodbine last October and then broke his maiden by 3 ½ lengths on the dirt at Gulfstream Park West. After a brief freshening, Battery returned in allowance company with a second-place effort behind Cherry Wine who went on to finish second to Exaggerator  in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

The colt finished last of 10 in the grade II Louisiana Derby and has been training at Saratoga Race Course for his Woodbine return.

Woodbine’s perennial leading trainer Mark Casse will saddle Conquest Cavalry in the Plate Trial, a race he won in 2013 with Dynamic Sky. Conquest Cavalry, a bay gelding by Old Forester owned by Conquest Stables, has a record of 2-3-1 from seven starts, all at Woodbine. Third in the Kingarvie last year, Conquest Cavalry opened his sophomore season with a 4 1/4-length score in an allowance sprint before finishing fifth, less than three lengths behind the winner, in a seven furlong optional claiming sprint after a troubled trip. 

The Plate Trial is the 10th race on Sunday’s 11-race card that includes the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, also at 1 1/8 miles on Tapeta.

Heading the Oaks field is Gamble's Ghost, Ivan Dalos’ homebred daughter of Ghostzapper  trained by Carroll, who won the Oaks in 2011 with Inglorious who went on to win the Queen’s Plate.

Gamble’s Ghost broke her maiden first out with a widening 8 1/4-length victory that hinted and returned to finish second in the Natalma Stakes (Can-II) behind eventual Canadian Horse of the Year Catch a Glimpse. The filly then won the grade III Mazarine and finished second behind Oaks contender Caren in the $250,000 Princess Elizabeth Stake to complete a stellar juvenile campaign.

Sixth, just two lengths behind the winner, in the grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, Gamble's Ghost won the Selene Stakes (Can-III) under regular Contreras in her last start.

“It was a very windy that day and I made my move early for that reason. She was impressive to win the way she did coming from off the pace,” said Contreras. “She's doing very well in the morning, the same as always,” said Contreras. “She keeps getting better.”

Trainer Mike Doyle, who won the Oaks in 1989 with Blondeinamotel, will well represented this year with three starters—Tiz Imaginary, Crumlin Spirit, and Dublin Diva.

“They are all very talented,” said Doyle. “Crumlin Spirit is very nice and relaxed, very easy going. Tiz Imaginary was high strung, but changed a lot between the ages of 2-3. Dublin Diva can get fired up, but she’s all business when the race starts. I think she could be a really good one.”

Windhaven Farms’ Tiz Imaginary, a daughter of Tizway, is a three-time winner from six starts, including the seven-furlong Fury Stakes on May 22. Patrick Husbands will take over from Contreras aboard the filly who will be making her first trip around two turns Sunday.

Crumlin Spirit, co-owned by Doyle with Dura Racing, has won or placed in eight of her 10 career starts. The Court Vision  filly won the Lady Angela Stakes, a seven furlong sprint May 1, and she angled off the rail and mounted a strong rally to earn show money in the Fury.

The lightly-raced Dublin Diva, also co-owned by Doyle and Dura Racing, has won two of her three career starts including a driving 1 1/4-length score last time out in an optional claiming sprint. Wilson will pilot the daughter of Leroidesanimaux.

Robert Marzilli’s Caren, a bay daughter of Society's Chairman , won five of six juvenile starts including scores in the Shady Well, Nandi, Victorian Queen and Princess Elizabeth Stakes. Most recently, Caren finished second to Crumlin Spirit in the Lady Angela and was a game runner-up to Gamble’s Ghost in the Selene after setting a solid pace.

Casse, who has won the Oaks on three occasions with Lexie Lou (2014), Sealy Hill (2007) and Kimchi (2006), will saddle a trio of fillies in the Oaks with Conquest Partygirl, Conquest Dynasty, and Luckbe Tanya.

Also, at Wodobine Sunday, the Avelino Gomez Award will be presented to champion jockey Gary Stahlbaum, a winner of 1,759 career races. Stahlbaum's résumé includes a Sovereign Award (1980) as Canada’s top rider, nearly 120 lifetime stakes triumphs, including 16 graded, and close to $20 million in purse earnings. The Gomez Award is given annually to the person, Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or regular rider in the country for more than five years, who has made significant contributions to the sport.