Wild Desert gave jockey Patrick Valenzuela and stand-in trainer Bobby Frankel their first victory in the $1 million Queen's Plate, the first leg of the Triple Crown for 3-year-old Canadian-breds at Woodbine Sunday.
Wild Desert, an Ontario-bred son of Wild Rush who was making his first appearance since an eighth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) April 16, overcame a bumping incident in mid-stretch to register a half-length win over another American-based runner, King of Jazz.
"He got brushed a little bit," the Southern California-based Valenzuela said. "But he withstood the bump and went on about his business."
The filly Gold Strike finished a well-beaten third in the 146th running of the Queen's Plate, 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner after setting the pace. The 2-1 favorite Dance With Ravens was not a factor, finishing seventh in the first-off-the-board performance of his career.
Dan Borislow, whose partnership includes New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, purchased Wild Desert in February. Wild Desert's previous best showing this year was a second-pace finish in the Lane's End (gr. II) at Turfway Park in March when Ken McPeek conditioned him.
Wild Desert was transferred to the Richard Dutrow Jr. stable following the Arkansas Derby, where Afleet Alex beat him by nearly 16 lengths. He moved to Frankel as the trainer of record while Dutrow serves a 60-day suspension that began June 1.
Frankel, who is yet to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), can now count the Canadian equivalent to his credit. Frankel stables a small string at Woodbine this season, where he had one win from 17 starters heading into Sunday's races.
The second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes July 17 at Fort Erie, over 1 3/16 miles. The $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, at 12 furlongs on the grass Aug. 7 at Woodbine, is the third and final leg.
The final time for the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate was 2:07 1/5 on a track rated fast but playing slowly.
Wild Desert was next to last in the field of nine through the clubhouse turn and had just two rivals beaten as the field reached the far turn. But able to save ground throughout, Valenzuela maneuvered the bay colt into contention in mid-stretch. They angled out slightly to challenge the weary Gold Strike, who lugged out a bit under Jim McAleney as King of Jazz closed from the outside, sandwiching Wild Desert briefly.
The winner gathered himself quickly, however, after losing some momentum, and came on again to take the lead inside the sixteenth pole. Under urgent handling from Valenzuela, Wild Desert held off a determined King of Jazz and Rafael Bejarano in the run for the wire.
"There was no trouble really," recounted Valenzuela. "I was biding my time along the inside throughout the backstretch.
"Around the turn, there was a little bit of traffic but I weaved my way through it. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd win the Queen's Plate. It's an honor to be here and a privilege."
The Manitoba-bred Gold Strike was away strongly and dueled early with the outsider Granique before she established control of the pace while recording fractions of :23 4/5, :48 1/5 and 1:13 4/5. Leading by a couple of lengths as they came off the turn, McAleney urged her on but the romping Woodbine Oaks winner two weeks ago was weakening after completing the mile in 1:39 4/5.
"I really thought no one was going to catch her because she was running so easy," McAleney said. "She's such a brilliant filly and I think unfortunately – and it's nobody's fault, it's the way the races unfolded – two weeks back took a toll today"
"Down the stretch, I felt sorry for the filly. She's giving me 100 per cent and she wanted to win. My heart was going out to her. She just got tired."
King of Jazz, another Manitoba-bred, stalked the pace and got first run on the outside. He put in a strong effort through the lane but could not collar the winner.
"There wasn't too much speed," Bejarano said. "I tried to stay close. When I asked him, my horse was coming really strong, but (Wild Desert) he was coming, too – he's a really nice horse. My horse, he ran good. He tried."
Windways Farm Limited bred Wild Desert, who was produced by the Desert Wine mare Desert Radiance and sold for $40,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton in July 2003. The victory ran his career record to 3-3-1 in 12 starts. Windways Farms bred and raced 1996 Plate winner Victor Cooley.
As the second choice, Wild Desert paid $8.30, $4.70 and $4.50. King of Jazz, who was making his stakes debut for trainer Carl Nafzger and Buckram Oak Farm, returned $5.90 and $4.90. Gold Strike, who had won her last two starts – the Woodbine Oaks and the Selene Stakes (Can-III) – by a combined 9 1/4 lengths, was $3.70 to show. Molinaro Beau finished fourth.