The oldest stakes in North America holds its 157th renewal July 3. So, what race is that, you ask. Obviously it’s not the Kentucky Derby, which celebrated its 142nd anniversary the first Saturday in May, nor the historic Travers, which dates to 1864.
The answer lies with our neighbors to the north. It’s the Queen’s Plate.
The race’s inaugural running occurred in 1860 during the reign of Queen Victoria, at the behest of the Toronto Turf Club, in an effort to improve the level of horse racing in Canada.
Queen Victoria allotted the prize, a plate worth 50 guineas—thus the Queen’s Plate. Eight Canadian-bred horses were entered that June day, and by the end of the three heats Don Juan took home the victory.
Following Queen Victoria’s death, the race was known as the King’s Plate until present-day Queen Elizabeth II assumed the throne in 1952.
Fillies have taken 33 of the previous 156 editions of the Queen’s Plate. Of these, the most dynastic was 1991 victor Dance Smartly, a homebred for the Samuel family’s Sam-Son Farm, which has won the Canadian classic five times.
Sam-Son founder Ernie Samuel purchased a bay yearling filly for $25,000 in 1975. Named No Class, the daughter of Nodouble—Classy Quillo did well to earn a bit more than her purchase price in three years racing. Stakes-placed, she defied her name becoming a broodmare of the year on the strength of her six high-class stakes winners, including champion 3-year-old filly and broodmare of the year Classy ’n Smart (Smarten).
In 1991 Classy ’n Smart’s Danzig filly Dance Smartly, Canada’s champion juvenile filly the previous year, was a horse on fire.
Prior to the Queen’s Plate the Sam-Son homebred rattled off wins in three stakes, including the Canadian Oaks. Having dominated the fillies, she turned to the boys. She mastered the Queen’s Plate by eight lengths, the Prince of Wales Stakes by two and the Breeders’ Stakes by eight, becoming the second filly to win the Canadian Triple Crown.
After taking the grade II Molson Million, she turned her attention to the States and added the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). Her perfect eight-for-eight season earned her not only an Eclipse Award but also Canadian championships, including Horse of the Year.
As a broodmare, she foaled back-to-back Queen’s Plate winners for Sam-Son: Scatter the Gold (Mr. Prospector) and the filly Dancethruthedawn, who emulated her dam and granddam with a 3-year-old filly championship.
Tangential to Dance Smartly is the influence of her half brother Smart Strike, the broodmare sire of 2011 winner Inglorious and 2009 winner Eye of the Leopard (also a Sam-Son homebred). Smart Strike, through his son English Channel , is the grandsire of 2012 winner Strait of Dover.