The jewel of Sunday’s action-packed card at Woodbine is, undoubtedly, the $125,000 Queenston Stakes. This seven-furlong contest goes off as race nine and features three-year-old Canadian-breds with hopes of seizing the 163rd Queen’s Plate and the lion’s share of its $1 million purse come August 21.
Installed as the 9-5 morning-line favourite is the #6 Duke of Love, trained by Josie Carroll for MyRacehorse. He has won two of his three career starts, both of those victories on Woodbine’s main track, with the lone loss a fifth-place finish on the turf at Gulfstream Park in the Pulpit Stakes. In addition to the surface switch that day, he was also running without Lasix, was a bit rank, and remember, the Pulpit, while 7.5 furlongs, was run around two turns. Duke of Love kicked off his three- year-old season with a dominant 5 ¼-length score going 6.5-furlongs, granted over just three other horses, but he’s a horse to be respected, especially hailing from a family which includes some pretty notable names. This son of Tapit is out of the Smart Strike mare Tell the Duchess, whose family is responsible for producing the likes of European champion Balanchine, as well as multimillionaire Thunder Snow.
Dual-Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse has two entered in the Queenston; the #2 Sir for Sure, and the morning-line second choice, #3 His Time. What the latter lacks in regard to a tail, he makes up for with an abundance of talent. He won his debut at Woodbine last month in what, for most of the way, looked like a gallop. It was only until Patrick Husbands, who has the call in the Queenston, navigated His Time into stretch that he made any noticeable moves of urging the gelding, and that is to be expected. Often times, when a horse, especially a young one, gets out on a lone lead, they can get a bit lazy waiting for the “herd” to join the party. It was definitely an unveiling, and the fact he went as fast as he did early while looking at total ease made it all the more impressive, as does the fact that the runner-up, It’s Game Knight, next won a special weight by five lengths, earning 78 Beyer.
Also notable is His Time’s pedigree. He’s a son of young sire-sensation Not This Time, who is by 2000’s Cartier Horse of the Year, Giant’s Causeway. Mom is Bittersweet Ride, a daughter of the undefeated Candy Ride, whose wins include the Pacific Classic. Additionally, His Time’s maternal grandmother is a daughter of Hall of Famer A.P. Indy, and his great-grandmother is a half-sister to another star in Triple Crown champion, Affirmed. All of this to convey that this horse should only get better with more ground, which is exciting, as the Queen’s Plate is a 1 ¼-mile test.
As for Sir for Sure, those 10-1 odds look mighty enticing, as he’s a horse who should not be overlooked, at least in the exotics. His half-brother, Frost King winner My Silencer, was actually beaten just a neck in the 2019 Queenston. Sir for Sure might have become a stakes winner at first asking like his brother had he not had a bad start in the Frost King, ultimately getting beaten a mere three-quarters of a length. He had a wide trip in race two, and then came back at three-years-old to overcome a troubled beginning and ground loss to win a special weight around two turns at Gulfstream Park. It was a pretty solid group. Of the 10 horses to run back, six ran in the money in their next starts, including two next out winners. One of the horses in the race, a Casse stablemate named Allegorical, next ran second at Gulfstream, and then posted a 78 Beyer picking up a win at Woodbine over Bill Needle, whose name you see in the company line of Rondure.
The #5 The Minkster is 4-1 on the morning-line and in for Daniel Vella and Sea Glass Stables. He will be making the first start of his three-year-old season after going two-for-two at two-years-old. The debut was taken by a margin of 6 ¼-lengths on the turf, and he followed that up with triumph on the Tapeta in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity by 2 ¼. Being by English Channel and out of a Flatter mare, one whose extended family produced Wajima and Naskra, he should be even better with the benefit of maturity, and will be also adding Lasix into the equation.
Perhaps being overlooked at 6-1 is the #1 Ironstone, trained by Willie Armata for Tequesta Racing and Jupiter Leasing. This son of Mr. Speaker has done very little wrong, earning connections a cheque in six-of- seven career starts, including back-to-back stakes scores in the Simcoe and Clarendon as a two-year-old. He capped the season off with a runner-up performance in the G3 Grey before getting some time off.
The return came in the Woodstock Stakes, and considering he had not run since November, and was chasing the likes of multiple stakes winner Nobals, who was in off a recent win in the Animal Kingdom, the finish looks a lot better. Now with a race under the girth, the screws should be nice and tight for the Queenston, and he has speed enough to use the rail to his advantage. The question is, of course, how much heat will he possibly take from His Time?
Another price horse of keen interest is the #7 Rondure, who looked like a different animal, crossing the wire 10 ¾-lengths the best in his three-year-old debut. That stated, the two-year-old form has some excuses. You always forgive a horse’s very first race and, in start two, he was bumped significantly out of the gate, and had traffic woes into stretch that just made making up ground too hard of a call to answer. As for that last race, it was his first outing for Katerina Vassilieva, and he made it with the addition of Lasix. The runner-up, the aforementioned Bill Needle, next put up a 77 Beyer figure running second to Allegorical, and Rondure’s stablemate, Allen Diggs, rebounded from a last-place finish to get the show dough in a seven-furlong special weight on grass, putting up a 73. With this in mind, it’s fair to hope that, with an even more honest pace up front, Rondure can factor for a piece.
Also entering the gate this Sunday are the #4 Hidden Honor for Tino Attard and the #8 Perfect Day for J. Tyler Servis. The former is in off a winning three-year-old debut back in April, and could certainly move forward, though this is a much more formidable group. As for Perfect Day, he won his first two career starts before folding off the lead last out in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel. How he fares here remains to be seen, as all three races have been on dirt.
Will Duke of Love reign in the Queenston, or will His Time prove it’s his moment to shine? Might there be a genuine upset? We’ll have to wait to see.
As for my Top Three:
#3 His Time
#6 Duke of Love
#2 Sir for Sure
Woodbine Communications, by Ren Carothers