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Book Review

cover The Plate: 150 Years of Royal Tradition, from Don Juan to Eye of the Leopard
By Lou Cauz and Beverley Smith
ECW Press, December 2009, 368 pages softcover

The Queen's Plate Stakes is the oldest continuously-run stakes race in North America and celebrated its 150th running in June 2009. It is not only the first race of the Canadian Triple Crown, but the only race in North America whose purse is partially funded by the ruling British monarch as a draft for 50 guineas from the Royal Privy Purse is awarded to the winning owner, a tradition begun by Queen Victoria for the inaugural running in 1860. After the 125th running, horse racing historian and archivist Lou Cauz released The Plate - A Royal Tradition, chronicling each of those first 125 winners. Cauz, who attended his first Plate in 1966, said, "More than 50 years ago, my obsession with the Plate and its history took roots at Woodbine. Years later, that infatuation with this historic piece of Canadiana prompted me to chronicle its first 125 runnings."

A quarter-century later, Cauz has teamed with award-winning Globe and Mail sportswriter Beverley Smith to update the book to cover the winners from La Lorgnette in 1985 to Eye of the Leopard in 2009 and include new material found for the older runnings. Cauz added, "My fixation on the Plate has not diminished. Joining forces with the talent of Beverley Smith, I have had the pleasure of adding another 25 years of Plate history and revisiting the first 125 years by editing, rewriting and adding photos and anecdotes that were not available in 1984." He says his favorite Canadian-bred horse is Kennedy Road, who won the 1971 running and may best be remembered as the horse who bravely battled with Secretariat in the early stages of the 1973 Canadian International.

Each running is given a minimum of two pages, with 1964 winner Northern Dancer getting six pages. Cauz and Smith, using information from news articles of the day, write up detailed accounts of the race running and the atmosphere experienced by fans and participants at the track, including the weather, the attendance, the Royal representative, and any other interesting events that occurred. One such case was 1963 winner Canebora, who hated music so much that the traditional "call to the post" was not used. He also had an interesting pedigree as two sires are listed, officially "Navy Page or Canadian Champ", since his dam Menebora was covered by both and the race predates modern DNA testing to determine the actual sire. At least 2 photos or other illustrations of each running are included, along with the official Daily Racing Form chart and the 3-cross pedigree of the winner.

David Willmot, owner of legendary Kinghaven Farm as well as Woodbine's CEO, wrote the foreword, and the introduction was written by Globe and Mail executive editor Neil Campbell. During the book's launch event Willmot, who first attended the Plate in 1964, complained that there aren't enough "characters" in racing anymore, referring to an embarrassing incident when Viscount Harding relieved himself in the Woodbine paddock during the inaugural Queen's Plate Barbecue after having too much to drink.

Cauz and Smith spent four years on the project, not only writing new material for 1985 onward, but also going back and adding more detail to the earlier runnings. Along with the 150 race articles, there are 8 additional "summary" articles covering several distinct eras in Queen's Plate history, starting with the founding of the race in 1860, to the dominance of the Seagram and Taylor families, and to the present day with dwindling on-track crowds, the proliferation of off-track betting, and slot machines. Smith said, "I've been watching the Queen's Plate since I was 12 years old, and writing about it, so it seemed only natural now that I am a real journalist, I could carry on what I started many years ago. It's been a labor of love from the first day and I'm honored to have been given the task." She said she originally wanted to be an artist, and that Northern Dancer got her interested in the sport.

The book is both an interesting cover-to-cover read and a useful reference tool, with complete race charts as well as an appendix with various statistics such as Plate starters, winning jockeys and trainers, time records, winning sires, winners whose progeny also won, betting handle, and attendance records. Fans of racing history, and Canadian history in general, will enjoy this book about a horse race that faced extinction several times but has stood the test of time. The Queen's Plate is Canada's version of the Kentucky Derby, and in their book, Cauz and Smith take on the role of Jim Bolus, telling the story of not only a horse race, but of the country in which it is run.

The Plate: 150 Years of Royal Tradition has a cover price of $39.95 and can be ordered for $26.37US from Amazon.com or $25.04CA Amazon.CA. It is also available at Woodbine in their gift shop.

Rating:     5/5

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