Queen’s Plate 2016: top 5 storylines
As the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, and the North American stakes race with the longest continuous history, the Queen’s Plate serves up fascinating story lines every year. (Click here for FREE Queen's Plate PPs, courtesy of Brisnet.)
Here are the angles I find most compelling going into Sunday’s 157th edition of the “Gallop for the Guineas.”
Hall of Famer Roger Attfield’s hopes for a record ninth Queen’s Plate rest on Shakhimat – and solving his tactical conundrum. From the first North American crop sired by Australian legend Lonhro, Shakhimat has been most effective when dictating on the lead, e.g., his 9 3/4-length rout of the Coronation Futurity and his emphatic win in Keeneland’s Transylvania (G3). Stalking tactics haven’t worked so far, as evidenced by his tame second to Amis Gizmo in the Plate Trial. Hence the puzzler: should Shakhimat be allowed to stride on and do his thing, come what may? Or with several other pace factors signed on, should he take his chances trying to rate again? Attfield has been trying to teach him that skill, to broaden his portfolio, while leaving the on-the-spot decision to jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson. If Attfield can transform Shakhimat into a multidimensional force, his record-breaking win will prove all the more meaningful. Attfield would also be coming full circle in a sense: according to Woodbine, his first Plate winner, Norcliffe (1976), is the last horse to achieve the Coronation Futurity/Plate double.
Josie Carroll has two strong chances in morning-line favorite Amis Gizmo and the filly Gamble’s Ghost, both Ivan Dalos homebreds. The only woman trainer on the Queen’s Plate honor roll, Carroll sent out Edenwold (2006) and Inglorious (2011), a filly who turned the Woodbine Oaks/Plate double. Although Edenwold was the Canadian champion 2-year-old male, and Amis Gizmo came in second in last year’s Sovereign Award balloting, the latter arguably boasts a better overall resume. Amis Gizmo brings a 5-for-6 career record, including a solid victory in the Plate Trial (that eluded Edenwold). Can Amis Gizmo succeed where his half-brother Ami's Flatter (eighth in the 2015 Queen's Plate), and "cousin" Ami's Holiday (second in 2014), failed? Gamble’s Ghost was unlucky not to win the Woodbine Oaks, after getting shuffled back on the rail to an unpromising position turning for home, enduring scrimmaging in the stretch, and missing by a diminishing nose.
Leavem in Malibu would be a poignant winner as a full brother to Danzig Moon. The ill-fated Danzig Moon was a prominent classic prospect last year in both the US and Canada. Runner-up in the 2015 Blue Grass (G1), fifth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and sixth in the Preakness (G1), the Mark Casse trainee was prepping in the Plate Trial when he suffered a fatal breakdown. Leavem in Malibu got started too late to make noise on the US Triple Crown trail, but he’s making quick strides now and has won both starts routing – also for Casse.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey continue their search for a first Queen’s Plate trophy. The Ramseys, whose We Miss Artie finished fourth as the 2014 Queen’s Plate favorite, are back with Sir Dudley Digges. Like “Artie,” “Dudley” was purchased at auction. Unlike Artie, Dudley took seven tries to break his maiden and wasn’t nominated to the US Triple Crown. But the Mike Maker pupil stands to benefit from the added ground, as his staying-on third in the Plate Trial implies. Sir Dudley Digges is bred to thrive over longer distances: from the first crop of three-time Eclipse Award champion Gio Ponti, he’s out of My Pal Lana, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Flaming Page on the Woodbine turf in 2004.
Esposito could become the second notable classic performer to emerge from last December’s Remington Springboard Mile. The Remington feature was a key race in Oaklawn’s Triple Crown preps. Although winner Discreetness went on to take the Smarty Jones, the Springboard Mile near-misser, Suddenbreakingnews, turned out to be the more significant of the pair. Suddenbreakingnews captured the Southwest (G3), finished second in the Arkansas Derby (G1), and motored late for fifth (just failing to grab third in a photo) in the Kentucky Derby. Esposito was actually the 7-5 favorite in the Springboard Mile, but wound up a close third. Resurfacing in a June 5 Woodbine allowance, he rolled to a 3 1/2-length decision for trainer Tom Proctor. Esposito, as a May 3 foal, likely has a lot of upside. He’s also got a solid pedigree as an Adena Springs-bred son of Ghostzapper and the Red Bullet mare Money My Honey, who placed in the 2008 Wonder Where. That makes him a three-quarter brother to synthetic specialist Stately Victor, winner of the 2010 Blue Grass on Keeneland’s old Polytrack.
Will any of these storylines be in play after #QP16? Stay tuned to find out!