At around 5:42pm ET, the latch will be sprung for the 163rd running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate, Canada’s oldest and most celebrated race. It also serves as the first jewel in the country’s Triple Crown. Lining up in the gate are 11 Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, each with hopes of crossing the wire a mile-and-a-quarter from the stalls into history, and favoured is the lone filly: Moira.
Owned by X-Men Racing, Madaket Stable, and SF Racing, Moira made an impression from the start. Her trainer, Kevin Attard, sent her out to a 4 ¼-length victory on debut. Her only loss came in start two, the Grade 3 Mazarine, in which she suffered a half-length defeat to Mrs. Barbara, an already stakes-placed Mark Casse charge who was making her sixth outing, and who would go on to be named Sovereign champion 2-year-old filly. Moira took a break and came back at 3 to win the Fury Stakes, and then, in a dazzling display, the Woodbine Oaks, crossing the wire 10 ¾ lengths the best – and after being sent out missing both hind shoes, at that. Flattering her all the more was runner-up Sister Seagull subsequently scoring the Bison City in her next go.
Now, however, Moira will be stepping in against the boys, and along with Rafael Hernandez, she’ll be carrying the hopes of her trainer, looking to get that elusive Plate win, with her, as well. Noteworthy is that, while she has not technically run against males before, her sensational Oaks performance came on the same day and at the same distance as the Plate Trial, a race which resulted in the Mark Casse exacta of Sir for Sure over Hall of Dreams, with Causin’ Mayhem (Todd Pletcher), Duke of Love (Josie Carroll), Dancin in Da’nile (Gail Cox) and The Minkster (Daniel Vella) following. All five of those boys are back and it’s worth pointing out that Moira completed the Oaks in 1:49.78, whereas the Plate Trial was clocked in 1:50.62.
The biggest threat to Moira appears to be Rondure, owned by Borders Racing Stable, who has had time to freshen up, having not run since his command performance in the Grade 3 Marine Stakes on July 2. He proved 5 ½ lengths the best that day and though it was his first time routing, he looked as though he could keep on trucking. Rondure actually drew away by 10 ¾ lengths – and at 10-1 – in his first start as a 3-year-old, which was also his first outing for trainer Katerina Vassilieva. He had previously had two troubled starts as a 2-year-old for then-conditioner Danny Vella, but came back a different animal with the benefit of maturity. Rondure’s only loss was just missing Vella’s The Minkster by a head in the 7-furlong Queenston Stakes, a race in which fellow Plate entrant, Ironstone, finished third ahead of another show dough finish in the Marine. Rondure might not be the biggest horse, but he obviously has a big heart, and he’s also getting a big name making the trip to ride in Flavien Prat, who has been connecting at 24 percent this year.
As for the aforementioned Vella colt, Sea Glass Stables’ The Minkster, he is looking mighty generous sitting on the morning-line at 10-1. This is a horse who was sent off as the favourite in the Plate Trial, and though he finished a disappointing sixth, it was his first-ever defeat. While some might point to the distance, remember, he won the 9-furlong Coronation Futurity in just the second start of his career as a 2-year-old, defeating Plate entrants Dancin in Da’nile and Shamateur. There certainly seems to be enough stamina in the pedigree there, as well. He is, after all, a son of English Channel. So, perhaps one should go the benefit of the doubt route and believe the lackluster performance in the Plate Trial a product of post position, heat, and a mind simply not on business. Watching the replay back, it was clear to see this was a very keyed up horse heading into the first turn, and Vella has spoken about The Minkster exhibiting the “thumps” after the race, which is caused by an electrolyte imbalance. If all systems are back to go this time, might he remind all why he was sent off the favourite in the Plate Trial in the first place?
This is to take nothing away from Heste Sport’s Sir for Sure, of course. He did, after all, prevail by two lengths over stablemate Hall of Dreams, and one could argue he was just aching to stretch those legs. He had only routed one other time, and it was his only other win, a mile-and-seventy-yards maiden special weight on the synthetic at Gulfstream Park, wherein he had to overcome a bad start and a less than peppy pace to close for the W. Furthermore, consider this strapping gelding’s sire, Sligo Bay, counts among his wins the mile-and-a-half, Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup. All of this considered, Sir for Sure sure looks like a legitimate contender and it would come as no surprise at all to see him make it a Trial/Plate double.
It is truly an exciting edition of the Queen’s Plate, with plenty of interesting and intersecting storylines. Moira could indeed prove a worthy favourite. Even the longest price on the board, Hunt Master, coming off a half-length defeat against older horses (granted, at the OC40 condition), is not without a look, but as for how this handicapper sees it playing out:
#10 Sir for Sure
#4 The Minkster
Ren Carothers for Woodbine Communications