June 25, 2012

Strait of Dover Goes Wire-To-Wire In $1 Million Queen's Plate

Canyon Farms’ homebred Strait of Dover, ridden confidently by Justin Stein, made every pole a winning one while taking the $1 million Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most famous horse race, in record time Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack.

At the finish of the mile and one-quarter classic for Canadian-bred three-year-olds, Strait of Dover held a one and one-quarter length margin over filly Irish Mission, winner of the recent Woodbine Oaks, with Dixie Strike, the only other filly in the race, a further three and three-quarter lengths back in third.   Colleen’s Sailor, trying to give his trainer Roger Attfield a record ninth Plate win, was fourth after dogging the leader for most of the trip.

The final time was 2:01.99, eclipsing the former Polytrack mark of 2:02.18, set by Pachattack two years ago.  The Plate record of 2:01 4/5 seconds is held by 1990 winner Izvestia, when timing was calculated in fifths instead of 10ths.  

“I loved this horse all along,” said an elated Stein. “He’s shown me and I have said it time and time again that he is a racehorse. He wants to get out here and he wants to win. He calmed right down as soon as he saw that we were going into the gate and he just stood there and waited for his turn to be loaded. That’s what he wants to do.

“I didn’t have to be on the lead with him today but no one else wanted to go and we were going pretty easy so I just let him roll on up there. I have faith in this horse and he just galloped around there like a champ.”

Trained by Dan Vella, Strait of Dover, winner of the Marine Stakes on May 12, had been forced to miss the June 3 Plate Trial because of sickness.  But on Sunday he didn’t miss a beat, as he won his fourth race in a row at Woodbine to remain undefeated on Polytrack. (fifth unofficially, after being disqualified in his Woodbine debut last November).

The son of English Channel-Bahrain Star is a British-Columbia bred, as is the 32-year-old Stein, who was born in New Westminster. It was the first Plate win for Stein, whose best previous finish was fourth with Ascot Bill in 2006.  It was also the first Plate win for owner-breeder Canyon Farms (Wally and Terry Leong), who had one previous Plate starter, Illusive Force in 2003, who finished last of 12 behind eventual Triple Crown winner Wando.  

But it was the second Plate triumph for Vella, who conditioned 1994 winner Basqueian for Stronach Stables.

“Good horses do good things,” said Vella.  “We all like to take a little credit but truthfully he’s a great horse and that’s what it’s really about, the people that bred such a great horse and just being associated and being able to train these types of horses. It’s what us guys in this industry, that’s what we want to do.

“Well, we talked about it with Justin and we analyzed the race and we thought it was a possibility we would end up on the front end. We really didn’t want that. You’re doing the work for everyone else, but if you’re there, you’re there.”

Strait of Dover, send postward a close 7-2 second choice to Plate Trial winner River Rush, who finished a non-threatening sixth, went immediately to the front and never looked back, taking the field of 14 through splits of :23.85, :47.74, 1:12.31 and 1:37.07.

The last horse to win the Plate wire-to-wire was Big Red Mike in 2010, and before him, Wando in 2003.

As the field turned for home, the pacesetter had opened two and one-half lengths on his rivals but Irish Mission, with Alex Solis, was a determined pursuer, as she tried to run down the leader and become the seventh filly to win the Plate since 1956.   Meanwhile, Dixie Strike, who was last early, made a late run for third.

Strait of Dover picked up $600,000 for the win, his fourth in only seven outings after beginning his career with two starts last August and September at Hastings Park in Vancouver.  

Hastings Park, of course, laid claim to part of I’ll Have Another’s bid for a U.S. Triple Crown this year, courtesy of its leading jockey Mario Gutierrez, who rode the Paul Reddam-owned, Doug O’Neill-trained colt to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, before being injured and scratched the day before the Belmont Stakes in early June.

Strait of Dover returned $9.60, $5.80 and $4.30, combining with Irish Mission ($8.40, $6.20) for a $108.40 (4-14) exactor.  A 4-14-10 (Dixie Strike, $5.50) triactor was worth $551.50, while a $1 superfecta [4-14-10-9 (Colleen’s Sailor)] came back $4,271.35.

His connections will now have to decide whether to enter Strait of Dover in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, July 15 at Fort Erie, on the dirt over one and three-sixteenth miles, the second leg in Canada’s Triple Crown.  The third and final leg is the $500,000 Breeders Stakes, August 5 at Woodbine, at one and one-half miles on the lawn.

There have been seven Triple Crown winners since the concept was inaugurated in 1959, the last being Wando in 2003.

(WEG)


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