Five things to know for the Queen’s Plate

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

July 2nd, 2017

The oldest continuously held race in North America, the Queen’s Plate, will be contested for the 158th time on Sunday. The 1 1/4-mile classic is the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, also comprising the Prince of Wales and the Breeders’ S., restricted to three-year-olds bred in Canada.

Here are my five things to know about Sunday’s C$1 million renewal at Woodbine:

1. Holy Helena, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, is trying to become the seventh Woodbine Oaks winner to beat the boys in the Queen’s Plate.

A Stronach Stables homebred trained by Jimmy Jerkens, the Ghostzapper filly has progressed rapidly this spring. The May 4 foal was unraced at two, finished second on debut at Aqueduct April 15, graduated next time at Belmont, and successfully stretched out while trying stakes company in the Woodbine Oaks. Plate rival Inflexibility, who was herself stepping up from a Belmont maiden win in the Woodbine Oaks, got shuffled back at the crucial point on the far turn and recovered belatedly for third. For whatever it’s worth at this point, Inflexibility was the 5-2 favorite in that meeting, with Holy Helena 6-1.

If Holy Helena can follow up in the Queen’s Plate, she would be the least experienced Woodbine Oaks winner to do so. The six already in the record book – Flaming Page (1962), La Lorgnette (1985), Dance Smartly (1991), Dancethruthedawn (2001), Inglorious (2011), and Lexie Lou (2014) – had considerably more foundation.

Inflexibility, for her part, would become the first Woodbine Oaks placer to win the Queen’s Plate in a half-century, since Jammed Lovely (1967).

2. Channel Maker turned in a strong prep when runner-up in open company in the Marine (G3).

The Bill Mott trainee was cutting back slightly from nine furlongs to 1 1/16 miles for that local prep, where he went off as the 9-5 favorite. Making a bold, circling move out wide on the far turn, Channel Maker ranged up to Souper Tapit, only to flatten out and settle for second, 5 3/4 lengths clear of third-placer Malibu Secret (see below).

Souper Tapit was never going to the Queen’s Plate, since he’s not eligible as a Florida-bred. Yet for that very reason, he has a significant bearing on the evaluation of Channel Maker. Souper Tapit, a well-regarded blueblood from the Mark Casse barn, was moving forward off a seventh in the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland. The Lexington was pretty decent: winner Senior Investment came back to run third in the Preakness (G1) and fifth in the Belmont (G1), runner-up West Coast dominated the Easy Goer on Belmont Day, and hard-luck third No Dozing was second in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on Derby Day.

Channel Maker is eligible to thrive over the added ground, being by English Channel and out of the stakes-winning In Return, by South African Triple Crown star Horse Chestnut. Based on that pedigree, you wouldn’t have expected him to wire the 6 1/2-furlong Vandal as a juvenile – his only prior start in restricted company. Otherwise, he’s been competing in graded events and Keeneland allowances.

3. The Plate Trial left more questions than answers, making it tough to gauge as a prep.

Staged over the same 1 1/8-mile distance as the Woodbine Oaks on the same day, the Plate Trial’s winning time of 1:51.32 was well off Holy Helena’s 1:50.18. That wasn’t just a function of a slower pace either; according to Trakus, 20-1 upsetter Guy Caballero took :13.30 to negotiate his final furlong. The glass-half-full take on Guy Caballero is that he’s on the improve, having benefited from a gelding operation, and he did go last-to-first despite a modest pace, and a wide trip throughout, in the Trial.

But you can also try to look on the bright side for a couple of his beaten foes in the Trial. King and His Court, last year’s Canadian champion two-year-old male, went down by only a half-length, despite the fact that Casse believes he wasn’t at his best. If able to recapture his top form, when landing the Coronation Futurity and Display as a juvenile and the May 7 Wando two starts back, he’s right in the hunt. On the other hand, it’s worth wondering if his contemporaries have caught up with him on the developmental curve. No Sovereign Award-winning two-year-old male has annexed the Queen’s Plate in a decade, since Edenwold (2006).

Stablemate State of Honor was a no-excuse third after controlling the pace in the Trial. Casse is less positive about his Plate prospects, mainly because of stamina questions for the Florida Derby (G1) runner-up and Kentucky Derby (G1) also-ran.

The one to focus on from the Trial might be sneaky fourth Tiz a Slam

4. Tiz a Slam, the winter book Queen's Plate favorite, may now be the best value at 10-1 for record-seeking trainer Roger Attfield.

The Chiefswood Stable homebred’s pedigree strongly indicates improvement with maturity and distance. Hence it was a most encouraging sign that the Tiznow colt from the family of Salsabil won his first two outings in August, and capped his two-year-old campaign with a victory in the Cup and Saucer.

Tiz a Slam appears to have fallen out of favor after a trio of losses this term, but that may prove a hasty judgment. Fifth in the Columbia on the Tampa turf, he was second by a scant length to King and His Court in the Wando, where Trakus reports that he covered 44 feet more than the winner. In the Trial, Tiz a Slam lost position on the far turn, got relegated to last, but finished with interest under considerate handling to snatch fourth.

If anything, this methodical program of a mile, to 1 1/16 miles, to 1 1/8 miles looks like Attfield’s master strategy unfolding. Indeed, the dual Hall of Famer was clear that Tiz a Slam performed well in his prep given his condition at the time.

Attfield is the expert in building a horse up to his peak on this day, since he’s currently tied for most Queen’s Plate wins (eight) in history. With a modicum of improvement that Attfield has geared his preparation toward, Tiz a Slam can give him the record number nine. He’s been waiting long enough to stand alone in the recordbook, his most recent winner being Not Bourbon (2008).

5. Aurora Way and Malibu Secret are royally bred sophomores with upside.

Aurora Way, like Tiz a Slam, is a Chiefswood homebred with a pedigree to savor. But the Giant’s Causeway gelding has been a work in progress for Stuart Simon. Finally making it to the races on June 10, Aurora Way made a stylish debut when driving four lengths clear. He’s got the raw genetic material, with his multiple Grade 3-winning dam, Aurora Lights, being a three-quarter sister to Master Command from the outstanding family of Allez France. But is the jump into the Queen’s Plate, in his second start, too great a leap? Whatever he does Sunday, Aurora Way is one for the future.

A similar, although less dramatic, case is Malibu Secret. A homebred for five-time Queen’s Plate-winning institution Sam-Son Farm, the Malcolm Pierce trainee has three starts under his belt. He debuted in the Vandal at two, finishing a promising second to Channel Maker, and he broke his maiden in his sophomore bow. But Malibu Secret has to step up off a distant third to Souper Tapit and old foe Channel Maker in the Marine. Perhaps the addition of blinkers will help the son of Malibu Moon, who’s out of a Dynaformer half-sister to dual Canadian champion Irish Mission.

Check out the free Queen's Plate Betting Guide here, and good luck!