Midnight Aria gave trainer Nick Gonzalez his second win in the $947,012 Queen's Plate (VIDEO) since 2010 with a gate-to-wire upset victory by a half-length July 7 over the Polytrack at rain-soaked Woodbine.
Third in Woodbine's Plate Trial June 9 after setting the pace, Tucci Stables' 16-1 shot Midnight Aria earned his only win since breaking his maiden over a sloppy track at Gulfstream Park Feb. 16. He was claimed prior to that win for $35,000 in January at Gulfstream by Lou Tucci and his uncle Carlo from Lobdell Family Stables and trainer Steven Dwoskin.
Jesse Campbell guided the pacemaker Midnight Aria to victory over a field of 12 Canadian-bred 3-year-olds in a time of 2:04.72. Up With the Birds, the 8-5 favorite, was second. Beset by traffic issues while racing near the rear of the field, Up With the Birds quickly closed on the leader through the long Woodbine stretch before running out of time.
"He was the speed on paper," said an elated Campbell. "I could see (Up With the Birds) coming and I could feel him. I was praying for the wire.”
A pair of Mark Casse trainees, Plate Trial winner Dynamic Sky and the filly Spring in the Air, ran third and fourth, respectively. Casse, a five-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada's leading trainer, entered four horses this year in quest of his first Queen's Plate victory.
Gonzalez, having an off-season at Woodbine, claimed his first Queen's Plate three years ago with Big Red Mike, who also won on the front end. The trainer said afterward that Midnight Aria would be pointed to the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at 1 3/16 miles on dirt at Fort Erie July 30.
"Carlo and Lou Tucci have been in the business forever and are the best owners you could ever have," Gonzalez said. "They’ve paid their dues, paid their bills, love and have a passion for the sport. Anytime one of their horses got injured they found them a good home. They are very deserving and deserve everything they got here today."
A son of hot sire Midnight Lute (a two-time Breeders' Cup Sprint winner) out of the winning Mt. Magazine mare Shebandowana, Midnight Aria was bred in Ontario by Yvonne Schwabe Thoroughbreds. He cost $80,000 as a 2011 Keeneland September yearling.
He paid $35.20, $13, and $8 while keying a $170.20 exacta. Up With the Birds returned $3.90 and $2.80. Dynamic Sky paid $4.40.
Heavy rain dampened much of the stakes-filled day at Woodbine, but after pouring during the post parade for the Queen's Plate, the rain stopped. Up With the Birds, dominating winner of the Marine Stakes in his most recent start May 26 for trainer Malcolm Pierce, was favored while attempting to give owner/breeder Sam-Son Farms a sixth Queen's Plate victory.
Breaking from the rail, Campbell sent Midnight Aria to the front as expected, with fellow outsiders Kaigun and Rackman settling about a length behind. Tepid fractions of :24.63, :48.58, and 1:13.65 found Midnight Aria still in control on the far turn as Dynamic Sky took up the chase in second and Spring in the Air looked for room along the inside.
As they reached the quarter pole in 1:38.67, Midnight Aria was suddenly surging away from the field and he opened up by four lengths in the stretch. Up With the Birds, emerging from the pack while wide under Eurico Rosa Da Silva, was the only one with a chance to catch him and he made a gutty effort to do so. But Campbell found the wire in time while urging Midnight Aria on through the final furlong.
"When he took on three at the three-eighths pole and did that comfortably, I felt pretty good about our position at that time," said Gonzalez.
It was 7 1/2 lengths back to third-place finisher Dynamic Sky, who ran evenly late under Joel Rosario, with Casse stablemates Spring in the Air, the Woodbine Oaks runner-up, and Jagger M following. Then came His Race to Win, Pyrite Mountain, Woodbine Oaks winner Nipissng, the Casse-trained Kaigun, River Seven, County Lineman, and Rackman.
Midnight Aria won for the second time in nine lifetime starts to go with one second and five thirds. The Queen's Plate winner's share, $567,300, extended the bay colt's earnings to $630,795. Prior to the Plate Trial last month, Midnight Aria ran third after setting the pace in Woodbine's Wando, his stakes debut and first try over a synthetic track.
"My uncle and I have been chasing this dream for over 40 years and it’s hard to express what you feel when a dream comes true," Lou Tucci said. "It’s like the seventh game final of the Stanley Cup and scoring the winning goal times a thousand."
Once again, the Plate favorite failed to win, as only two of 19 previous post time choices have succeeded.
The all-sources handle on the Queen’s Plate card was a record $9,739,879, shattering the former mark of $8,768,101 set in 2011.