TORONTO, May 29 – The road to the 159th running of the $1-million Queen’s Plate is heating up. We are now just over five weeks away from the big race, and a number of the key contenders are putting in their final prep races for the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown. The final key local stakes preps are quickly approaching, with the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser, and the $125,000 Plate Trial Stakes set for June 9. Let’s take an early look at the potential field for each race.
$500,000 Woodbine Oaks (8)
Dixie Moon / Catherine Day Phillips / Sean and Dorothy Fitzhenry
Fairy Hill / Norm McKnight / Bruno Schickedanz
Hot Cash / Jimmy Jerkens /Stronach Stables
Queen’s Fate / Michael Maker /Maxis Stable and Michael Maker
Split the Sea / Malcolm Pierce / Sam-Son Farm
Summer Sunday / Stuart Simon / Anne and William Scott
Wonder Gadot / Mark Casse / Gary Barber
Zestina / Sid Attard /Stronach Stables
A field of eight Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies appear to be pointing for the Woodbine Oaks, and it’s a field that’s not lacking in quality. Leading the way is multiple graded stakes winner Wonder Gadot, who returns to Woodbine following her runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 4. While Wonder Gadot has run well on the dirt this winter, the lone Tapeta start of her career was a dominant one, when she captured the Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes by six lengths last October.
Dixie Moon will be looking to give Wonder Gadot a run for her money, and is coming off of a strong performance in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes. Despite the narrow defeat, it was an encouraging race from the daughter of Curlin, who bounced back nicely after finishing ninth in her 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland on the turf.
Summer Sunday is undefeated in four starts on the Woodbine Tapeta, which includes three stakes victories. She bounced back off of a ninth-place finish on dirt in the Grade 3 Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland on Apr. 8 to win the Fury Stakes over seven furlongs on Tapeta in her next start on Apr. 29. She has yet to race around two turns, but trainer Stuart Simon is confident that distance won’t be an issue.
Leading trainer Norm McKnight will look to win his first Woodbine Oaks with Fairy Hill, who would come into the race following a three-length victory in allowance company. She was claimed by McKnight and owner Bruno Schickedanz for $25,000 last November, and has hit the board in both of her Woodbine starts this year after wintering at Oaklawn Park.
Sam-Son Farms will look to win the Oaks for the eighth time with Split the Sea. After a promising debut last July that she won by three lengths, Split the Sea finished fourth behind Wonder Gadot in an allowance race last August. Following a layoff, Split the Sea returned to the races on May 4 at Woodbine in a seven-furlong allowance on Tapeta, finishing second to Safe to Say.
Queen’s Fate will be hoping she can reverse her 3-year-old form in the Woodbine Oaks for trainer Michael Maker. After breaking her maiden on the turf at Keeneland last October, Queen’s Fate finished second to Dixie Moon in the Ontario Lassie Stakes on the Woodbine Tapeta last December. She hasn’t found her best running as a 3-year-old as of yet, and would enter the Oaks off of a fifth-place finish in the Fury Stakes on April 29.
Rounding out the field are a pair of Stronach Stables homebreds, Hot Cash and Zestina, who will be looking to give the stable its second Woodbine Oaks victory in a row. Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of last year’s Oaks winner Holy Helena, will hope Hot Cash can win the Oaks as a maiden. She added Lasix in her last start and finished third in a one-mile maiden special weight on the dirt at Belmont Park on May 4. Zestina, meanwhile, broke her maiden in her 3-year-old debut on May 5 and ran third in an allowance race on the turf this past Saturday at Woodbine.
$125,000 Plate Trial Stakes (10)
Absolution / Tony Gattellaro / Polo Management Services
Aheadbyacentury / John Ross / Jack of Hearts Racing and J.R. Racing Stable Inc.
Cooler Mike / Nick Nosowenko / Mike and Nick Nosowenko
Ellas My Love / William Tharrenos / Andreas Pitsadiotis
Inge / Norm McKnight / Bruno Schickedanz
Rose’s Vision / Stuart Simon / Chiefswood Stable
Sable Island / Gordon Colbourne / Box Arrow Farm
Silent Sting / Sid Attard / Stronach Stables
Strike Me Down / Graham Motion / Sam-Son Farm
Telekinesis / Mark Casse / Stonestreet Stables
With the Plate Trial likely to be run before the Woodbine Oaks on June 9, Silent Sting could start a great day for Stronach Stables if Zestina or Hot Cash were able to win the Oaks. Silent Sting will be among the favourites for the Plate Trial following his win in the Queenston Stakes on April 22, his second consecutive stakes victory. Trainer Sid Attard said Silent Sting is in good order following the Queenston.
“He’s doing very well,” Attard said. “He worked last Monday and we’re going to work him again on Wednesday and give him a couple extra days rest. He’s so fit right now.”
Looking to challenge Silent Sting will be Queen’s Plate Winterbook favourite, Telekinesis, who will make his Woodbine debut in the Plate Trial. Telekinesis comes into the race off of a narrow defeat to My Boy Jack in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 14. My Boy Jack went on to run fifth behind Justify in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5.
Three Plate Trial probables will exit the Grade 3 Marine Stakes, which was run back on May 13, including Aheadbyacentury, Inge and Rose’s Vision. Aheadbyacentury was the top finisher among the trio in third, while Inge, who won the Wando Stakes by disqualification in his previous start, finished fifth and Rose’s Vision was sixth.
Sable Island won a pair of races as a 2-year-old for trainer Gordon Colbourne, and finished third behind Silent Sting in the Queenston Stakes in his 3-year-old debut. Another horse exiting the Queenston is Ellas My Love. He finished fourth in that event after having to check heading into the turn, but won his next start against allowance company over 6 1/2-furlongs on Tapeta on May 12.
Like Ellas My Love, Cooler Mike, Strike Me Down and Absolution are expected to run in the Plate Trial off of wins in their previous starts. Cooler Mike ran second to eventual Grade 3 Marine Stakes winner O’Kratos in his seasonal debut in an allowance race on April 29, and followed that up with a victory around two turns while adding blinkers on May 20. Strike Me Down, meanwhile, broke his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion while battling strong winds back on May 4. Absolution rallied to win an allowance race off of the winter layoff over 1 1/16-miles during the first Wednesday night card of the season back on May 16.
A deep three-year-old crop of Canadian-bred colts and geldings could produce a bumper field for the Plate Trial. Also under consideration for the final Plate prep are locally-based Redoute’s Light, a recent maiden winner trained by Roger Attfield for owner-breeder Charles Fipke, and Sent From Heaven, third to Redoute’s Light last out for conditioner Dan Vella and owner Murray Stroud.
A trio of U.S.-based Plate Trial contenders incudes Alternative Route, recently fourth in the Grade 3 Arlington Classic for trainer Al Stall, Jr.; Home Base, a Churchill Downs allowance winner on May 24 for conditioner Michael Tomlinson; and Scrapper, second in the English Channel Stakes at Gulfstream Park last out for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Tickets for the Queen’s Plate Festival, featuring Brad Paisley and Sam Roberts Band, are on sale now at QueensPlate.com.