On the heels of an impressive win in the Marine Stakes at Woodbine May 26, Up With the Birds has been made the 2-1 favorite to win the 154th running of the Queen's Plate on Sunday at Woodbine in Toronto, Canada.
“I'd rather be 2 to 1 than 20 to 1,” said trainer Malcolm Pierce of the pressure accompanying the favorite's role. Pierce landed the first choice of post positions in the two-tiered draw, and took post seven. Pierce has previously started only two horses in the Plate (finishing 13th with speedball El Brujo in 2009 and third with Rock Again in 2003), but now he's in his fourth season as trainer with Sam-Son Farms, which hasn't had a starter in the Plate since 2010. Sam-Son Farm won its fifth Plate in 2009 with Eye of the Leopard.
This year, Sam-Son is back with a vengeance. Not only has the prominent Canadian stable entered the race favorite, it also will start His Race to Win, who lost the Plate Trial by a nose to Dynamic Sky.
Both Up With the Birds and His Race to Win are by the Storm Cat stallion Stormy Atlantic.
His Race to Win, a growthy colt, didn't break his maiden until May 12 at Woodbine, but Michael Balaz, grandson of the late Sam-Son Farms founder Ernie Samuel, said the colt is improving at the right time and John Velazquez is coming to Toronto to ride him. “When Johnny Velazquez gets on a horse, they improve by a length,” Balaz said.
His Race to Win will start from post 11 and is listed at 10-1 on the morning line. Velazquez has never ridden His Race to Win before, but he has had four previous mounts in the Queen's Plate, his best finish coming aboard Sterwins when second in 2006. Pierce said His Race to Win shouldn't have been 12-1 in the Plate Trial.
His instructions to Velazquez? “Get to the wire first.”
Eurico Rosa da Silva will ride Up With the Birds and he may take it as a good omen that he won his first of two Queen's Plates from post seven (Eye of the Leopard).
A field of 12 will run for the 50 guineas in a mile and a quarter race that is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. The draw for post positions was held at the annual Queen's Plate breakfast draw on Thursday.
Second choice in the wagering at 7-2 is the filly Nipissing, winner of the Woodbine Oaks three weeks ago. From post nine, she will settle into stride early under regular rider Steve Bahen and try to emulate a host of fillies that have won the Queen's Plate, the most recent of them Inglorious in 2011. Inglorious, who has just been retired from racing, was to prance in front of the breakfast guests but a gentle rain moved the event from the walking ring to the VIP tent and Inglorious stayed in her stall. In all, 34 fillies have won the Plate, seven of them since 1953.
Nipissing is a homebred from the Chiefswood Stable, which won the Queen's Plate with her sire, Niigon in 2004. Niigon is now deceased.
Dynamic Sky, one of four Mark Casse entrants, will be the third choice at 4-1 after his strong win in the Plate Trial under Joel Rosario. At this point, Casse also has Rosario listed to ride his filly, Spring In The Air, just in case something were to happen to Dynamic Sky in the next 72 hours: he wouldn't want Rosario sitting in the jock's room with no ride at all. Casse, the leading trainer at Woodbine, instantly touched a piece of wood that his wife, Tina, gave him two years ago. “I sleep with it,” Casse said. If both horses are happy and healthy, Gary Boulanger will ride the filly in the Plate.
Rosario ended up riding Dynamic Sky in the Plate Trial because the colt's regular rider, Luis Contreras, the leading rider at Woodbine, was booked to ride another horse in the race, and Casse's other go-to rider, Patrick Husbands, suffered a serious injury in a race earlier in the season. Casse picked Rosario, who had also ridden Funny Proposition for him when the filly upset Royal Delta in the Fleur de Lis Stakes at Churchill Downs several weeks ago. Casse was looking for a strong rider for Dynamic Sky. “This horse is a tough horse to ride,” the trainer said. He thinks the 1 1/4 miles of the Plate will help Dynamic Sky.
Casse will also start Jagger M (20-1 from post three for Shawn Bridgmohan, riding in his first Plate) and Kaigun, a big chestnut colt that was only seventh in the Plate Trial. Casse said he was only 50-50 about starting Kaigun a week ago, but he decided to follow the policy of D. Wayne Lukas. “If you're not in it, you can't win it,” Lukas said before winning the Preakness with Oxbow. Lukas has entered many longshots in his day, but has “come up smelling like a rose,” Casse said. All of Casse's horses come from off the pace and that's the problem, the trainer said. So many of the entries are stretch runners, but they need a pace to run at.
Pace will be provided by Midnight Aria, a speedy Midnight Lute colt trained by Nick Gonzalez, who took the Plate in 2010 with wire-to-wire winner Big Red Mike. Gonzalez had no choice but to pick the rail for Midnight Aria, because it was the only position left. Asked about his tactics, Gonzalez quipped “We're just going to drag him back to last.”
Nobody believed him.
Midnight Aria is a laid-back horse that has worn blinkers in the past, but Gonzalez is cutting the blinders back to cheaters – he didn't want a drastic change of equipment going into such a major race. “Everything has to unfold,” Gonzalez said. Midnight Aria is 15-1.
Mark Frostad, winner of four Queen's Plates, has two entries in the race, with his best shot being Pyrite Mountain, who conquered Canada's Horse of the Year, Uncaptured, in the Wando Stakes at Woodbine on May 5. But since he finished fourth in the Plate Trial, unable to close off a slow pace, he's been flying a bit under the radar, and will be 6-1 under Contreras from post 10. He's a small horse at 15 2 1/2 hands – “a really nifty little horse,” Frostad said.
Others are Frostad's other entry County Lineman (post five, 30-1 odds, Alex Solis); Rackman (post eight at 50-1 under Jim McAleney), and River Seven (post 12 at 20-1 under Todd Kabel). River Seven finished only eighth in the Plate Trial after stumbling badly at the start. “He was a decent 2-year-old, but he'll have to step it up,” said trainer Gonzalez.
The Queen's Plate will go as the 10th race on a program that also includes the Highlander, the Dance Smartly, the Singspiel and the Clarendon Stakes.
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