TORONTO, April 7 – The Keeneland spring meet opens on Friday with a remarkable weekend of action including seven graded stakes races topped by the $1-million Blue Grass Stakes.
Although there will no Canadian content in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes, headlined by top Kentucky Derby contender McCraken, a number of Queen’s Plate hopefuls will be in action on the undercard including the trio of Channel Maker, Be Counted and Escondera (Race 5, 3:18 PM ET) in a one mile turf allowance.
Channel Maker, recently transferred to the barn of trainer Bill Mott, graduated in the Vandal Stakes for then trainer Dan Vella in August leading gate to wire over a yielding turf course in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint. The English Channel chestnut followed up that score with a strong third in the Grade 3 Summer Stakes setting up a seventh-place run in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf when defeated less than six lengths by Oscar Performance.
Channel Maker finished eighth in his seasonal debut in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes and is listed at 7-2 on the morning line for Saturday’s tilt. Joel Rosario will ride.
Be Counted, trained by Graham Motion for Augustin Stable, got up to win by a nose in a bumpy debut when sprinting 5 1/2-furlongs on the Laurel turf course on November 25. Angel Cruz takes over from Alex Cintron as Be Counted stretches out to a mile.
Escondera, trained by Roger Attfield for owner-breeder Robert Harvey, boasts a record of 1-1-1 from four starts including a good third last time out in the Coronation Futurity when travelling 1 1/8-miles on the Woodbine Tapeta. The grey son of Eskendereya, from the same family as Hollinger (Canada’s 2009 Champion 2 Year Old colt), will be piloted by Rafael Hernandez.
In Saturday’s fourth race at Keeneland (2:45PM ET), Attfield trainee Bourbon Extension will look to make his career debut a winning one in a 6 1/2-furlong main track sprint. Rafael Hernandez will ride.
Enstone will be part of the Keeneland opening day festivities as she stretches out to 1 1/8-miles on the turf (Race 6, 3:51 PM ET) on Friday. The bay daughter of Tiznow, trained by Mark Casse, broke her maiden on October 23 when 7 1/4-lengths the best in a maiden allowance route on the Woodbine Tapeta. Her past turf form, which includes a good second at Saratoga, bodes well for the improving bay who closed out her juvenile season with a strong second in the $250,000 Princess Elizabeth Stkaes. Jose Lezcano will ride.
A number of Queen’s Plate contenders were in action last weekend including stand out efforts from State of Honor and Time to Travel.
State of Honor, trained by Mark Casse for Conrad Farm, stamped his ticket for the Kentucky Derby with a solid second behind Always Dreaming in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
Earlier on the same card, Time to Travel posted a phenomenal maiden score when 4 3/4-lengths the best in a seven furlong main track sprint for trainer Rachel Halden. The Garland Williamson homebred, a full brother to multiple graded stakes winner Hard Not to Like, was transferred to the barn of trainer Michael Matz following the score and is likely to make his next start in the U.S.
Final Copy continues to look for his first career win after finishing seventh on March 31 in a 1 1/16-mile turf event at Tampa Bay Downs.
A number of key contenders popped up on the work tab last week including:
Expedition breezed four furlongs in :48 flat on April 4 on the Woodbine Tapeta. Rank 2/23
Woodbridge breezed four furlongs in :49.40 on March 29 on the Aiken dirt. Rank 4/6
Megagray breezed five furlongs in 1:03.20 on March 29 on the Aiken dirt. Rank 4/4
Last Wan breezed four furlongs in :49.20 on March 29 on the Aiken dirt. Rank 2/6
Tiz a Slam breezed four furlongs in :47.40 on April 1 on the Payson Park turf. Rank 7/30
Major Eclipse breezed four furlongs in :50 flat on April 1 on the Payson Park dirt. Rank 7/17
Ellan Vannin worked four furlongs handily in :48.40 on April 2 on the Woodbine Tapeta. Rank 24/88
Maritimeconnection worked five furlongs handily in 1:01.80 on April 2 on the Woodbine Tapeta. Rank 11/16
Tiz a Slam remains a top Queen’s Plate contender… (Courtesy of Allyson Walker)
Updated Top 5 Queen’s Plate Contenders as selected by @TripleDeadHeat
Horse / Trainer / Owner
1. Tiz a Slam / Roger Attfield / Chiefswood Stable
2. State of Honor / Mark Casse / Conrad Farms
3. Channel Maker / Dan Vella / Joey Gee Thoroughbreds and Wachtel Stable
4. Inflexibility / Chad Brown / Klaravich Stables, Inc. William H. Lawrence
5. King and His Court / Mark Casse / Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable
* King and His Court drops to 5th (from 2nd) as State of Honor continues to dominate in 2017.
The 158th running of The Queen’s Plate, the 1 1/4-mile classic which carries a $1 million purse, is set for Sunday, July 2. For more information on North America’s oldest continuously-run stakes event and first jewel in Canada’s Triple Crown of Racing, visit QueensPlate.com.