Get ready for the Duke of Love show, Queen’s Plate edition.
When the leggy, robust colt steps onto the racetrack ahead of the 163rd running of the Queen’s Plate on August 21, expect a raucous reception from members of his ownership group, MyRacehorse (MRH), which could number up to 40 people that afternoon at Woodbine.
The other 950-plus who have shares in the handsome Ontario-bred will be tuning in from all over the world, literally, as Duke of Love contests the biggest race of his career to date.
No doubt, everyone associated with the horse through MRH, the affordable Thoroughbred ownership company founded by Michael Behrens in 2018, is champing at the bit to see Duke of Love burst from the gate in the 163rd running of the Plate.
MRH, championed by the late B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm, brought together 5,314 owners who purchased shares in 2020 Kentucky Derby champion Authentic, the majority of whom are still partners in the stallion’s breeding career.
Harry Rice, East Coast Racing Manager with MRH, gets emotional at the thought of adding a Canadian classic crown to the company’s success stories.
“I’m so excited,” said Rice, whose father, a jockey valet in New York, owns a share in the horse. “I think it’s awesome how parallel our journey in America with Authentic is with Duke of Love in Canada. They are both quirky horses. Authentic, as he got closer to the Kentucky Derby, time was his best friend. I think that’s the same with the ‘Duke.’ He’s such a cool horse. He’s quirky, for sure. He runs with his head up in the air like a giraffe.”
A son of Grade 1 winner Cupid, a son of the renowned Tapit, Ontario-bred Duke of Love was an $85,000 MyRacehorse purchase from the Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale in Maryland. He is the second foal out of Tell The Duchess, a daughter of the prolific sire Smart Strike.
Bearing a noticeable likeness to his sire – good sized, and bigger framed – the bay, bred by Caldara Farm Inc., Patrick Costello, David Whitford and Tom Zwiesler, launched his career on November 14, 2021.
Campaigned by Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee and three-time Plate winner Josie Carroll, the then two-year-old proved to be up to the challenge.
With Justin Stein in the irons, Duke of Love, in front by a head at the stretch call, went on to record a two-length triumph in the 5 ½-furlong main track race at Woodbine.
It wasn’t only jockey and rider who took notice of the polished effort.
“Right then and there, Josie’s husband Charlie [Nash] said it,” started Rice. “He said, ‘I don’t say this very often, but he’s going to be our Plate horse.’ The horse got into a ton of trouble, and he still ran a great race. It gives you chills thinking about it.”
Duke of Love completed his rookie season with a fifth in a turf race at Gulfstream in early December.
After prepping for his three-year-old campaign in Florida, he was back on track at his home base, trouncing his rivals to the tune of a 5 ½-length score at 6 ½ panels over the Toronto oval Tapeta on May 7.
His first stakes test, the 7-furlong Queenston on June 12, yielded a fourth-place finish, albeit only 1 ½ lengths behind highly regarded The Minkster.
After a second to top Plate contender in the Grade 3 Marine one month later, Duke of Love saddled up for the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial on July 24.
A tough trip, from start to end, produced a fourth-place finish.
Stuck behind a wall of horses late, Stein and Duke of Love were able to find daylight, and rallied impressively despite the tangled journey.
“He was in trouble the whole away around,” offered Rice. “Justin gave him a terrific ride. I have been happy everything he has done for us. The last race, he put it all together. If he didn’t get in trouble, there might have been a chance he got through and won. But I’m happy with that effort.”
So too was Stein.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet,” said the veteran rider. “He’s grown up, yet he’s still growing up. I can’t wait to ride him in the Plate.”
Jim Mahoney, one of the MyRacehorse shareholders, made the trek, about a two-hour road trip from his home in Buffalo to watch the Plate Trial.
The longtime racing fan was hard to miss.
Clad in purple, replete with leopard-print collar, pockets and cuff, accompanied by a purple fedora framed by a leopard-print band, along with a white silhouette of a horse and the words ‘Duke of Love’ on the back of the ensemble, Mahoney caught the eye and camera lens of more than a few people at Woodbine that afternoon.
Perhaps all that missing was a red carpet and paparazzi.
“When they first offered the horse, there was a retro look in what they sent out, and I just wanted to make it fun,” said Mahoney, who will be bringing some family members to the Plate. “I painted the MyRacehorse logo on it. I thought it was a fun thing to do. The last time I was at Woodbine was in 1996 for the Breeders’ Cup, so it was amazing to come back for the Plate Trial. It’s a wonderful track and the people are really nice. The whole experience is just wonderful. I wasn’t sure what the reception was going to be with what I was wearing, but as soon as I walked through the gates, a lot of people smiled, congratulated me, gave me the thumbs-up, and took pictures. I think it went over fairly well.”
Not bad for a $40 Amazon purchase.
“I told him the purple suit has to come on the big day,” said Rice. “He said his wife might not let him, but he has to bring it. That was so cool, the outfit, and Josie loved it. Martha [Wakely, Manager of Racing Operations & Horsemen Concierge Services with Woodbine] told me we had a guy wearing a purple suit. I told her that I was pretty sure it wasn’t one of our owners, but she said, ‘Oh, it is. It’s branded with Duke of Love on the back.’ And then I saw the pictures and thought it was the coolest thing ever. At the end of the day, these are fans, passionate fans who love their horses and love the sport.”
Ardent supporters who will be out in force at the Queen’s Plate.
Just how many MyRacehorse owners will be in attendance that day is still unknown.
“It’s confirmed that we have at least 30 owners coming out, but that number could grow up to 40. We have a Queen’s Plate experience for them, which includes a trip to LongRun (the Ontario-based organization that takes recently retired Thoroughbreds and through rehabilitation and re-training, finds them adoptive homes and new careers) as well as having a big race-day event.”
The mere thought of the ‘Duke’ experiencing a Canadian racing coronation less than three weeks from now is enough to make Rice a little teary-eyed.
Impossible, he admitted, to know how he’d react if the big-framed bay were to take all the spoils in the $1 million classic.
“I think we’re just seeing the beginning of something special. I’ve been in racing my whole life and if we were to win this, I’d cry my eyes out. That’s just how I am. Big wins, I get emotional. It’s awesome.”
Their hopes ride on the hooves of a colt who combines size and strength packaged together with a quirky, yet endearing, personality.
Some members of the 3-year-old colt’s ownership group, like Mahoney, are just as colourful.
And even if they aren’t, the bond between the owners, through their joy of the game and of their horses, undoubtedly is.
It’s what makes the ‘Duke’ and his merry band a most compelling show.
“MyRacehorse, through those microshares, has made the game more fun and enjoyable for people like me,” said Mahoney. “Everything about horse racing is fun and that’s the way it should be. I’ve loved the sport for a long time and got away from it a bit after college. It was MyRacehorse that got me back in. And now, here we are with a horse in the Queen’s Plate. I love this horse, and now he gets to be in a million-dollar race. Just how great is that?”
Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms