Queen's Plate day brought out a huge crowd at Woodbine. Since admission is free, the exact number is unknown.
The Queen's Plate is Canada's most important race. It is to Canada what the Kentucky Derby is to the United States, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is to France, and the Melbourne Cup is to Australia. With this in mind, there was much going on at Woodbine besides just the feature race.
Not only is it one of the richest races in Canada with its $1 million purse, it is the only race in North America in which part of the purse is paid for by the British Royal Family, the amount of fifty guineas. In some years, Woodbine is fortunate to have a member of the Royal Family travel to Toronto to deliver the guineas as well as present the trophy, but most years a representative sits in the Royal Box to represent the Queen. This year, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario James K. Bartleman arrived in the royal landau and presented the trophy to winning owner of Niigon, Robert Krembil. It was Bartleman's first Plate visit as the Queen's representative. Before being appointed as the lieutenant governor, he held a number of diplomatic posts worldwide for the Canadian government. He is also the first vice-regal in Canada to have aboriginal ancestry.
As well, royalty of a different kind was invited to Woodbine this year, as Stewart Elliott, regular rider of Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, came up from Monmouth Park. Although he has long called Philadelphia home, he was born and raised in Toronto and did ride at Woodbine in 1987, winning 22 races. His mother and uncle still work on the Woodbine backstretch. Not only did he ride Long Pond in the big race, but he also autographed free posters for the fans before the first race and rode in four undercard races, winning the tenth race aboard 3-5 favorite Shop Hill.
On the undercard were two stakes races contested over the Woodbine turf course. First up was the Grade 3 Scott's Highlander Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for older horses with a $219,000 purse. Sam-Son Farm homebred Soaring Free was sent off as the overwhelming 2-5 favorite in the field of seven. Breaking alertly out of the rail post position with jockey Todd Kabel aboard, Soaring Free set a reserved pace of 22.73 and 45.62 saving ground along the hedge, then turning for home, dismissed stalker and 14-1 outsider Take Achance On Me then easily holding off the late run of 7-1 shot Open Concert through the lane to win by 2 1/4 widening lengths in 1:08.72 on firm ground.
Owner Tammy Samuel Balaz of Sam-Son Farm leads Soaring Free to the winner's circle.
Winning jockey Todd Kabel said, "He went very handily today, but he's a horse when he gets in front of the grandstand and by himself, he makes me have to work a bit. But I know he's got it." Winning trainer Mark Frostad said, "He was a handful to saddle in the paddock. He was feeling very good today. He ran a great race and we'd hoped he would. Our main goal would be the Atto Mile (September 19) in the fall. There's a couple of seven furlong races here and we'll certainly take a look at those." Soaring Free also won this event last year.
Eight three-year-olds went to post in the $108,000 Charlie Barley Stakes around a one-turn mile. 7-1 shot Dalavin was slow at the start and settled nicely in seventh down the backstretch through a very fast quarter in 22.81 set by 9-4 favorite Bachelor Blues. Then going four-wide around the turn, Dalavin took command at the top of the stretch, getting six furlongs in 1:08.78, and drew off to win by 6 lengths over Sam-Son Farm representative and early Plate hopeful Burst of Fire, in a final time of 1:33.02. It was just 1/2 a length back to the favorite in third. Winning owner-trainer Audre Cappuccitti said, "I liked him on the turf after Patrick rode him last time. He really excelled after winning the first time on turf, but this field was a little tougher and I thought it would be a little harder. He ran great. I'm thrilled." Jockey Patrick Husbands added, "There was a lot of speed in the race and the way the race unfolded, it unfolded in my favour. He left the gate relaxed and he wasn't in any trouble. When I asked him, he just kicked on. He gave me the best response any rider could ask for."
Mr. Bartleman (center) is greeted by Woodbine Entertainment CEO Dave Willmot (right) as he arrives for the races.
The trophy presentation with (left to right) Mr. Bartleman, jockey Robert Landry, trainer Eric Coatrieux, and owner Robert Krembil.
The field for the 145th Queen's Plate breaks from the gate.
First time past the post with Silver Ticket out front and eventual winner Niigon right behind.
Queen's Plate info online:
The first Queen's Plate trophy from 1899 (left) and the current trophy
All photos ©2004 Cindy Pierson Dulay.
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