Are You Kidding Me and Melmich will cross swords here Saturday in the Grade 3 Dominion Day, a 1 ¼-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and upward and the racing feature on the opening day of the inaugural two-day Queen's Plate Festival that also boasts a live concert by Canadian rockers Our Lady Peace.
A field of seven, including two who are cross-entered in Sunday's Grade 3 Singspiel Stakes at 1 ½ miles on the turf, has been entered for the $175,000 fixture.
Are You Kidding Me, trained by Roger Attfield, was Canada's champion older male the past two seasons and has earned $1.3- million with seven graded stakes wins in his 34-start career. The 7-year-old Kentucky-bred has also outpointed the Kevin Attard-trained Melmich in their three previous encounters at distances of 1 1/16 miles or 1 1/8 miles.
But, the pendulum may swing Melmich's way on Saturday as the 6-year-old gelding who was once a $12,500 claimer was an impressive winner of last year's Dominion Day and Are You Kidding will be traveling 10 furlongs on a main track for the first time.
“He has to carry 126 in pounds, at a mile and a quarter,” said Attfield, who trains Are You Kidding Me for Ronald Kirk, John Bates, and Mike Riordan. “The combination of the two is pretty difficult.”
Are You Kidding Me won the prep for the Eclipse stakes in his seasonal bow here April 29 but was beaten neck as a runner-up in the main event.
“He had a troubled trip,” noted Attfield.
Alan Garcia retains the mount on Are You Kidding Me, who drew post 5.
“He probably won't be too far away early, going a mile and a quarter,” said Attfield.
Melmich, claimed for $20,000 by his current connections back in 2014, has gone on to win four stakes for Attard and owners Stephen Chesney and Cory Hoffman. The Ontario-bred, whose other stakes scores came in the 2015 and 2016 runnings of the restricted Elgin at 1 1/16 miles and the 2015 edition of the Grade 3 Valedictory at 1 ¾ miles, took to the road last year with an eye toward some more serious route racing.
Melmich finished third in Belmont's Temperance Hill Invitational at 1 5/8 miles and Santa Anita's Grade 2 Marathon at Santa Anita last fall, which were his first starts on dirt.
In his seasonal finale at Woodbine, Melmich was beaten a half-length as the runner-up to Singspiel stakes entrant Bangkok as the 2-5 Valedictory choice on closing day, Dec. 4.
“I think California took its toll on him,” had Attard. “He came out of the Valedictory with a fractured 'splint'. He had surgery in December.”
Melmich certainly didn't show any lingering effects when returning to action almost six months later, comings from off the pace for an impressive three-length score in a comfortable allowance spot.
“I was on the fence, whether he'd be ready to run there or we'd have to go straight to the Dominion Day,” said Attard. “He came to hand pretty quickly. I thought that was the best race he's run for me, and I think a mile and a quarter is his best distance.”
Eurico Rosa da Silva retains the mount on Melmich, who will start from the outside under 123 pounds.
Scuba defeated Melmich in that one's Belmont and Santa Anita forays after running third in the Dominion Day. He will be making his second appearance in the race after running third last year. And while he has yet to find his sea legs this season it would be unwise to underestimate Scuba in his return to Woodbine.
“He's running okay,” said Brendan Walsh, who conditions Scuba for DARRS Inc. and started back him back off a five-month layoff for a six-place in Keeneland's 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali and then watched him finish last of five in Belmont's 1 3/8-mile Flat Out. 'He needed that run back. He was quite tired after it.”
“And, I don't think he ran that bad a race at Belmont last time. The winner freaked that day. He wasn't beaten far for second.
Walsh is referring to Tu Brutus, who won the 1 3/8 mile Flat Out Stakes by 11 lengths while Scuba was beaten a total of 13 lengths as the last of five entrants.
“He ran a good race up there last year,” said Walsh. “I don't see why having had the experience of being there, there's definitely not going to be a downside to it.”
Scuba also will run without blinkers for the first time since his first of 19 career starts.
“We don't think he needs the blinkers any more. “We're going to take them off, and give him a different perspective, and see if it will help him a little.”
“He seems like he's doing as well as he's ever done so we're looking forward to a good run,” said Walsh, who conditions Scuba for DARRS Inc.
Rafael Hernandez will ride Scuba on Sunday for the first time and the 6-year-old will carry co-high weight of 126 pounds.
Gigantic Breeze, who has been a vastly improved performer this year with three wins in as many starts for trainer Sandy McPherson and Stan Dodson's Hopefield Farm, is stepping up here under Gary Boulanger.
Aldous Snow was entered in both the Dominion Day and Sunday's Singspiel, stakes which he has won back-to-back beginning in 2014.
“It's going to depend on the fields and the weather,” said Malcolm Pierce, trainer of Aldous Snow “He can't even stand up on soft turf.”
Ethical Funds, who is coming off a second-place finish behind Bangkok at 1 3/8 miles on the grass, also is cross-entered.
Eurico Rosa da Silva has the call on Aldous Snow, an 8-year-old gelding who will be making his seasonal bow, in both the Dominion Day and Singspiel.
Longshot Thunder Point completes the field.
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