By Hayley Morrison for woodbine.com
TORONTO, June 26 – As a dozen horses prepare to burst from the gate in the 158th running of The Queen’s Plate, there is one person walking the backstretch from barn to barn who truly knows what it means to win Canada’s oldest thoroughbred race
“This is the Stanley Cup of horse racing. I mean The Queen’s Plate is the ultimate for any Canadian,” said Hall of Fame jockey Robert Landry.
Landry who won the Queen’s Plate in 2004 aboard Chiefswood homebred Niigon likes his chances this year, but this time it’s not from the saddle. Rather, taking the reins as general manager of their operation he brings not one but two strong contenders in Tiz a Slam and Aurora Way into this year’s race.
Both Plate contenders are bred, raised and owned by Chiefswood Stable, a racing operation founded by Robert Krembil in the late 90s. Krembil’s operation includes a breeding operation in Schomberg, Ont., and a training facility and after care facility in Loretto for their horses once they retire from racing. Currently, their operation is home to 130 horses, which includes broodmares, weanlings, yearlings, horses in race training and former racehorses.
Retiring from riding in 2010 and working at Chiefswood for the last seven years Landry has been looking for that right horse to come along and fill the big shoes of Niigon. He thinks luck may be on Chiefswood’s side this year.
“Winning the Queen’s Plate – it was my thirteenth try when I won the Plate on Niigon, and he was number thirteen, and now this is thirteen years later. So we are hoping all that might get it done for us.”
Regardless of lucky numbers, the champion jockey turned general manager has very much come to appreciate the process in breeding and finding that perfect horse.
“Mr. Krembil and the whole team get together and we try to breed the best to the best and hopefully you come up with a runner. It’s a long process,” said Landry. “It’s not just breed the horse and the horse ends up being good. There’s obviously the foaling of the horse, the raising of the horse, the bringing up, the breaking, the process to get them to the races and hopefully you don’t have any hiccups along the way.”
Niigon sporting lucky #13 in his Plate triumph…
Landry is quick to give credit to the people who continue to help their horses from their initial step into life to that very first spring out of the racing gate. “You’ve got to have a good team behind you, which we do. Simon Cassidy is the broodmare farm manager and he does a tremendous job with our horses and our mares. They end up going to the training centre and they get broke there and we just recently hired a new trainer at the training centre, Layne Gilforte, who has had a lot of success at the racetrack as a trainer.”
Since 2000 the racing operation has made close to $14 million from over 1,300 starters at Woodbine and several tracks in the U.S. Some of their best horses to date include homebred and Queen’s Plate winner Niigon and several other graded stakes winners such as Ambitious Cat, Nipissing, Essential Edge, Fifth Overture, Original Script and Aurora Lights.
Watching them grow from gangly legs into racing prospects, Landry feels confident in one lanky and classy colt by the name of Tiz a Slam. The son of Tiznow, out of Flaming Rose, won the 2016 Cup and Saucer Stakes and was a runner-up in this year’s Wando Stakes. Despite finishing fourth in the Plate Trial Stakes on June 11, Landry remains steadfast about the colt’s chances in the Plate.
“He’s a beautiful horse. He’s done well. His record speaks for itself. Things didn’t really work out the way we wanted it to in the Plate Trial. But Roger (Attfield) obviously knows how to get a horse to The Queen’s Plate. He’s won it eight times, and he is going for the record. He is a nice horse, he is a talented horse – I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.”
Attfield is quietly confident about the colt, knowing that Tiz a Slam could very well give him that essential ninth and record win in the historic race.
“He is doing very well. I thought his race in the Trial was commendable from where I was going into it. So I’m quite happy with my situation right now.”
Tiz a Slam could provide a record 9th Plate for Attfield…
The dark horse of the two, literally and so to speak is Aurora Way. Trained by Stu Simon the handsome gelding with a flashy blaze won impressively in his debut on June 4 going 1 1/16 miles across the Tapeta.
The son of Giant’s Causeway, out of Chiefswood’s broodmare Aurora Lights, only has one lifetime start under his belt.
“He lacks seasoning which is always a little bit of a worry, but we always knew he had talent. He always showed us he had talent but until they come here in the afternoon and run and bring it, you just never know,” said Landry.
Simon also feels confident in his trainee. “He is very talented. The distance is a big advantage to him because he will run a long ways that horse and that is the other big thing in his favour. He will definitely get the distance well and there is probably a few in there that may struggle with it.”
At 1 ¼-mile, The Queen’s Plate tests not only the stamina of each contender but their rider as well. Chiefswood has secured Woodbine’s top jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva to ride Tiz a Slam while Aurora Way will be under the direction of multiple graded stakes winning jockey Julien Leparoux. Despite Aurora Way’s lack of seasoning heading into the Plate, Leparoux is all too familiar with the race, romping home victorious last year on Sir Dudley Digges.
Having piloted many horses to victory in his illustrious career, Landry is now the chief on the rail keeping an eye out for both his horses and riders. Although he isn’t sure whether it will be the dark bay gelding leading the way with Leparoux or Da Silva making a slam dunk on their classy colt, he is simply counting on one of the two to capture the Plate for Chiefswood.
“For us to win the Queen’s Plate, and for me as a general manager, would be phenomenal. The people are very deserving, they put a lot into the game. They love the game and it would be nice to experience it on the other side of the fence for sure.”