By Gene Kershner
REXDALE, Ontario -- On Monday afternoon was Queen's Plate Media Day where 11 of the probable starters paraded in front of a few hundred media member in the walking ring outside Woodbine Racetrack in suburban Toronto. The first leg of Canada's Triple Crown has a purse of $1 million, and will be contested by a crowded field, with potentially 17 starters, although that number could be reduced by post time Sunday afternoon.
Sunday's 152nd edition of North America's oldest continuously run stakes race will be contested on the Woodbine polytrack over 1 1/4 miles. Since the inaugural Canadian Triple Crown of 1959, seven 3-year-olds have captured the prestigious triple, the last being Wando in 2003.
Here's a sneak peek at the probable starters in alphabetical order (trainer, jockey and sire in parenthesis):
Bowman's Causeway (Chad Brown, Eurico Rosa da Silva, Giant's Causeway) -- Finished third in Plate Trial after being claimed at Gulfstream from Patrick Biancone in his first try on the polytrack. He has hit the board in six of seven career races. Has the pedigree to get the mile and a quarter and should improve in the second start for the Brown barn.
Check Your Soul (Roger Attfield, Patrick Husbands, Perfect*Ire) -- It is highly likely that this one will most likely be your morning line favorite after his dominant performance in winning the Plate Trial. Should he win the Plate he would have a legitimate shot at sweeping the Crown due to his breeding for both the poly and the turf. Trainer Roger Attfield will be looking to notch a record ninth Plate victory.
Curgone (Greg De Gannes, Garrett Gomez, Niigon) -- Gomez makes the trip in to ride for De Gannes, for whom he has ridden at Del Mar. The son of 2004 Plate champion Niigon will most likely be forwardly placed in the early stages and should be a big price.
Enduring Star (Mark Casse, Robby Albarado, Sir Shackleton) -- West Point Thoroughbreds puts its Plate hopes in Robby Albarado's irons. While he just broke his maiden in April, he's been off since then after an illness slowed his progress. His work tab indicates he's fit and ready to roll. His third-place finish in a maiden special weight over nine furlongs at Gulfstream was flattered by the winner of that race, who won the Grade 3 Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont last weekend.
Head Honcho (Catherine Day Phillips, Jono Jones, Strut the Stage) -- He has not started well in all four of his starts, but has finished strong in each, winning two and placing in another. Seems to be somewhat outclassed here, but stranger things have happened.
Hippolytus (Mark Casse, Tyler Pizarro, Philanthropist) -- Casse puts on the blinkers based on recommendation from his jock. "You don't usually do that going farther but Tyler feels he really gets intimidated by other horses and he was on and off the bit the whole way in the Plate Trial," Casse said. He defeated other Plate hopefuls Curgone and Head Honcho in a May allowance race and comes in third off the layoff.
Imhotep (Todd Pletcher, TBD, Giant's Causeway) -- It was announced at Media Day that Pletcher will most likely enter the maiden in the Plate. Only having raced three times, he suffered a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Plate Trial after failing to break his maiden earlier in the winter at Gulfstream and Keeneland, respectively. His best effort to date was a turf race in his racing debut in which the winner just came back to win the aforementioned Hill Prince, and he finished just ahead of Enduring Star.
Inglorious (Josie Carroll, Luis Contreras, Hennessy) -- The lone filly to start in this year's Plate is trained by 2006 Plate winning champion Carroll. The filly comes off a Woodbine Oaks victory with red hot jockey Luis Contreras in the saddle. She finished second to highly regarded Kathmanblu in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds in February. She also comes in third off the layoff on the form cycle.
Maple Leaf Kitten (Joe Woodard, Ben Creed, Kitten's Joy) -- Claimed from Ken and Sarah Ramsey at Gulfstream for $75K this winter, this colt was unraced at age two. He should be a big price on Plate day where he'll try the poly for the first time. He had a bad trip at Churchill on Derby day and came back in a nine furlong effort and narrowly missed against one of Al Stall's top trainee's, Shrill. Added blinkers in breaking his maiden in a turf effort June 8 at Indiana Downs.
Oh Canada (Robert Tiller, Emma-Jayne Wilson, Proud Citizen) -- His sire finished second in the 2002 Kentucky Derby behind War Emblem, so getting the distance shouldn't be an issue. "If I win, I'm going to sing 'O Canada' and then jump into the infield pond," said trainer Tiller, who is still looking for his first Plate win since starting his first runner in 1975. "Well I won't do that, but I'll just cry," Tiller exclaimed. The gelding has never missed the board in five career efforts. Contreras jumped off this horse to ride the filly.
Ojibway Signal (David Bell, Justin Stein, Niigon) Another son of Niigon, he has only one win in 10 starts. His speed figures don't seem to match up with the better contenders.
Okiyama (John Mattine, Jesse Campbell, Old Forester) -- This lightly raced gelding came off a six-month layoff to win an allowance race on the Woodbine poly June 3. "He had a real quiet winter in Ontario," said Mattine. "He's a horse that was growing. I thought we'd let him grow up a wee bit. I've done that with a couple other horses and it seemed to work out." Not convinced he'll handle the additional distance based on his pedigree.
One Big Gator (John Ross, Jim McAleney, One Way Love) -- After removing the blinkers, he broke his maiden impressively in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight under Patrick Husbands. Veteran McAleney inherits the ride as Husbands will be on the likely favorite. He's hit the board in four of six outings and has never been further back than four lengths at the wire.
Pender Harbour (Mike DePaulo, Chantal Sutherland, Philanthropist) -- Chantal flies in from California for the mount on the chestnut gelding. He has fared well in his two route races, winning the Kingarvie Stakes last November over Plate starters Hippolytus and Ojibway Signal and finishing fourth in the Victoria Park Stakes only two lengths back June 12.
Queen'splatekitten (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, Kitten's Joy) -- He figures to take some money at the windows due to the name as well as the Pletcher/Velazquez combo. The Toddster has won the Plate before in 1998 with Archers Bay. The horse has solid speed figures and hasn't shied away from top-notch competition over the Derby prep season. "When we bought him (from Ken Ramsey this winter), we had this race in mind. It's always been our primary focus, so we feel like we've gotten to this point the way we had planned," said Pletcher, who is on his way home from spending a week at Royal Ascot.
Seawatch (Josie Carroll, TBD, Woodman) -- At this time, Carroll is still undecided whether they will go. He finished just behind Pender Harbour in the aforementioned Victoria Park Stakes. It is highly likely that this one doesn't make the gate Sunday.
Strike Oil (Mark Casse, Willie Martinez, Forest Wildcat) -- The colt finished third in the Plate Trial behind Check Your Soul and Bowman's Causeway after being wide most of the race. Won the Coronation Futurity as a two-year old last November, but was waxed by Preakness champ Shackleford in his three-year old debut at Gulfstream finishing 22 lengths behind. He's another horse that Contreras was on before jumping off to ride the filly. The Forest Wildcat colt will need some pace to fully utilize his late closing style.
We'll be up to attend the Post Position Draw breakfast Thursday and will have a full print advance in Saturday's paper to keep you up to date with all of the happenings north of the border as we kick off the Canadian Triple Crown season.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.