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Memory Lane: La Lorgnette romps in the 1985 Queen’s Plate

February 6, 2013

TORONTO, February 6 – It’s been almost 30 years since the leggy La Lorgnette stamped her authority as the best three-year-old in Canada with successive scores in the Canadian Oaks and Queen’s Plate.

The year was 1985 and the world was, well, different then.
Jelly shoes and legwarmers were the height of fashion.
Back to the Future burst onto the silver screen becoming the highest grossing film of the year, and the first of a storied franchise starring Canadian actor Michael J. Fox.
Careless Whisper, a ballad by WHAM, featuring the unshaven crooning of George Michael nosed out Madonna’s Like A Virgin and entry mate Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100.
And La Lorgnette was different in her own way. Standing at an impressive 17.1 hands, the bay filly, bred in Ontario at Windfields Farm, quite literally towered over her competition.
“Even as a two year-old she showed tremendous talent. She was a big, gangly two-year-old. I’ve got pictures of her winning the Natalma, and if you look at it head on, it looks like two horses running at you, her legs were running in such directions,” recalled trainer Mac Benson.
[To watch the replay of the 1985 Queen’s Plate, click the ‘WATCH VIDEO’ button on the right-hand side of this page.)
Following a respectable juvenile campaign where she compiled a record of 2-2-2 from nine starts, La Lorgnette finished second in her first three sophomore starts, twice to classy Sam-Son mare In My Cap at 1 1/16-miles…and then, something clicked.

(La Lorgnette’s past performance chart / Woodbine Archives)

Sent to post at odds of 2-1 in the Canadian Oaks, La Lorgnette rallied from ninth, and last, to score a narrow neck win over familiar rival In My Cap in the 1 1/8-mile route over the dirt.

Perhaps it was the added distance that allowed La Lorgnette to unravel her long limbs and finally defeat her foe.
One thing was for certain though, even after winning the Oaks, La Lorgnette was not expected to prevail in the Plate over an intimidating 3-to-5 entry – a daunting triple-team of Sam-Son Farm horses – Imperial Choice, Dauphin Fabuleux and In My Cap.
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In the days leading up the Plate, newspaper coverage focused on the Sam-Son trio.
‘Sam-Son Farm Trio Tops Field of 14 In $290,840 Queen’s Plate Renewal’, screamed the headline over Daily Racing Form columnist Wally Wood’s headline.
Wood’s lede told the story:
The three-horse Sam-Son Farm entry of Imperial Choice, Dauphin Fabuleux and In My Cap, winners of about $700,000, should be an overwhelming choice to win the Queen’s Plate here Sunday.
Stan Musial, the baseball legend who only just passed away on January 19, made the post position draw that year at the Queen’s Plate breakfast. Under the watchful eye of Stan ‘The Man’, La Lorgnette drew Post 12 and was listed at odds of 7-2.
The Sam-Son trio, coupled at odds of 4-5, were the short-priced favourites.
Even the legendary Joe Hirsch, whose column appeared under the headline, ‘Has La Lorgnette the Right Stuff?’ began with a nod to the favoured red and gold.
In the long and colorful history of the $290,840 Queen’s Plate, which will have its 126th running here Sunday with the Queen Mother as guest of honor, few favorites have gone into the race with a better chance than Ernie Samuel’s formidable entry of Imperial Choice, Dauphin Fabuleux and In My Cap.

(Queen’s Plate program / Woodbine Archives)

But Hirsch then delved into racing lore to acknowledge Man O’ War’s loss in the Sanford Memorial and Native Dancer’s defeat in the Kentucky Derby.

And then tipping his readers to a more poignant fit, Hirsch unraveled the story of the 1929 King’s Plate when a three-pronged Seagram Stable entry of Circulet, Irish Sphere and Son of Harmony, went to post at odds of 1-4.
Trainer Bill Bringloe, who saddled 42 horses for the Plate over the years and won this great prize six times, was confident he had the ideal combination. Dance Circle and Irish Sphere had speed while Circulet was known for his strong finish.
And yet it wasn’t meant to be for Team Seagram. Dance Circle, as expected, set the pace but couldn’t sustain his bid. Irish Sphere got the good position early and then flattened out. Circulet was a complete disappointment, never in the hunt at any time.
Shorelint took the Plate that year and the influential Hirsch led his readers, by way of history, into a lengthy quote from Benson about his filly that would have any punter expecting an upset.
She cut it pretty close in the Oaks. I saw the rerun on video tape last night, and though I knew the outcome, it almost scared me to death. But she finishes well consistently and that’s why I think she’ll give a good account of herself.
When she ran against Bessarabian last month in the Selene, she was a good second to a filly who went to New York last week and ran well in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. On form, La Lorgnette deserves respect.
Elegantly framed by Hirsch, it’s fitting that the piece found its conclusion at the word, ‘respect.’
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Sunday, July 14, the 58th day of racing of 1985 was overcast, and the Woodbine main was sloppy.
Despite the weather, the atmosphere was electric. Not only was the popular Queen Mum on hand to watch the Plate, the undercard was stacked with talent.
After Center Ice splashed home in the opener, under 22-year-old jockey Richard Dos Ramos, racing fans were treated to the debut of a gorgeous Sam-Son homebred, Grey Classic, who would go on to become a multiple graded stakes winner.
A son of Grey Dawn II, out of No Class, the gallant grey rallied from fourth at the top of the lane to win by a neck, under a well-measured ride by Irwin Driedger, over In The East and Storm On The Loose.
Grey Classic (8th), In The East (7th) and Storm On The Loose (13th) would all compete in the 1986 Queen’s Plate won by Golden Choice.
Up next was the Highlander Handicap featuring popular sprinters Proudest Hour, Goose Green, Baldski’s Holiday, New Connection and Centenarian.
Proudest Hour set sharp splits over the slop but it was New Connection that emerged with the lead at the top of the lane, only to be collared by Frank Merrill’s Centenarian at the wire in a final time of 1:10 2/5.
Dani’s Doll and Dancer’s Bo Jin took the fourth and fifth races, before Woodbine patrons were treated to a smart allowance score from Kinghaven’s multiple stakes winner Summer Mood, over a muddy track.
Summer Mood, named champion sprinter later that year, won 17 of her 50 career starts and retired with earnings in excess of $500,000.
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The track was upgraded to ‘good’ for the running of the Queen’s Plate.
As expected, the Sam-Son trio was the odds-on public choice, while La Lorgnette maintained her morning line label of 7-2.
A roar echoed across the grandstand as 14 horses sprung from the gate and rushed headlong down the Woodbine stretch.
At the ¾-pole, Fustukian held a narrow head lead over Old Gun Powder and Roman Emperor, but David Clark could hold La Lorgnette no longer, taking the lead with a quarter of a mile to run.
Clark, sitting high aboard the big filly, held on for dear life as La Lorgnette rumbled down the stretch to earn the honours. Imperial Choice rallied for second money over Pre Emptive Strike. Dauphin Fabuleux, rated the most likely winner of the three Sam-Son horses, was pulled up with an injury.

(La Lorgnette with David Clark / Michael Burns)
Tom Slater’s thorough report captured the mood of the race in the Monday, July 15/85 edition of the Toronto Star.
Clark, unaware that Dauphin Fabuleux had broken down, said ‘I didn’t know where Dauphin Fabuleux was. I was waiting for him to come flying up to us.”
Benson, ebullient after meeting the Queen Mum for the second time (the first meeting spurred by Regal Embrace’s score in the 1978 Plate), was overjoyed with his heroine who her owners (E.P Taylor’s Windfields Farm) tried, and failed, to sell.
It has been well documented that La Lorgnette, a daughter of the French-bred sire Val de l’Orne, out of the Nijinsky mare, The Temptress, was supposed to be auctioned at the 1983 Woodbine yearling sales.
However, she developed a severe case of colic the night before the sale and was scratched, forcing Taylor to keep her as a racehorse.
“She has always been a favourite with me,” Benson said. “Lots of people love the runt of the litter. She’s like the giant of the litter, but I love her.
Clark, who won the 1981 Plate with Fiddle Dancer Boy the last time the Queen Mum had visited Woodbine, laughed, “Maybe she should come here every day.”

(Queen Mother makes the presentation / Michael Burns)

And, to put a happy ending on a happy story, Dauphin Fabuleux survived and went on to stud duty, notably siring French King, a Canadian multiple stakes winner including the Coronation Futurity Stakes.

La Lorgnette, who paid $9.60 to win in her moment of glory, could not continue her Triple Crown success as Imperial Choice bested her in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie.
After failing to win in her next three starts, La Lorgnette was retired as Canada’s champion three-year-old filly.
As a broodmare, La Lorgnette is best known for producing Hawk Wing, a top two-year old of 2001 in the United Kingdom and Ireland and a winner of three Group One races.
Her legacy, however, lives on at Woodbine where each September a field of three-year-old fillies competes over 1 1/16-miles to win a stake race named in her honour.
Past winners include 2011 Plate winner Inglorious and 2010 Horse of the Year, Biofuel.
But, those who were here to see the big filly run will always remember La Lorgnette, emerging from the dusk on Plate day, with her tiny jockey clinging to her back, carried to victory by long, elegant strides.
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