By Perry Lefko
The increasing Americanization of the Queen’s Plate–Canada’s most-prestigious race–is reflected in this year’s edition, in which six of the scheduled 16 starters at Woodbine have U.S. owners.
Ken Ramsey, who won the Plate in 2016 with 15-1 long shot Sir Dudley Digges (Gio Ponti) and placed fourth in 2014 with 9-5 favorite We Miss Artie (Artie Schiller), has three horses scheduled to run in Saturday’s race. The trio includes Boyhood Dream (Dialed In), Marriage Counselor (Overanalyze) and Pawnbroker (Gio Ponti). All are trained by Mike Maker.
Gary Barber, who won the 2014 Plate with Lexie Lou (Sligo Bay), will be trying for his second win with another filly, Wonder Gadot (Medaglio d’Oro); Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables has Telekinesis (Ghostzapper), the Queen’s Plate winterbook favorite; and the partnership of B. Wayne Hughes’s Spendthrift Farm and Town and Country Racing (Kiki Courtelis) will send out Alternative Route (Tiznow).
According to Canadian horse racing historian Lou Cauz, who has written two books about the Queen’s Plate, there have never been this many horses owned by Americans running in the race, which has its 159th renewal this year.
“More Canadian horses are being sold at Keeneland or Saratoga and so on,” Cauz said. “Our program up here is very healthy to run Ontario-breds, and of course we have the Ontario Sires program up here and [Woodbine is] a great racetrack to run at. It’s one of the top three or four racetracks in North America. We are more global now. Northern Dancer (Nearctic) made us global. It’s all the evolution of the Queen’s Plate and how things have changed. Americans have gotten [more] involved in Canadian racing.”
Banke, who has never run a horse in the Plate and will be making her first trip to Woodbine, had high praise for the race.
“The Plate is the pinnacle of Canadian racing and it’s a good race to target,” she said. “I hope that it’s a very good time for all the connections and I’m looking forward to it. I think racing is becoming increasingly a global industry, and you’ll see maybe more horses coming in from Europe and the U.S. to compete in the big races.
“The Plate was always a potential target for this horse,” Banke added. “I’m looking forward to seeing how he does. We thought about running in the Preakness, but I had Good Magic (Curlin) in the race and we felt he needed a little more seasoning. Given the weather conditions in the Preakness, I’m glad we didn’t. I think he’s a very good horse and he can run on the (synthetic) track up there and on dirt and possibly on grass.”
Offspring of Ghostzapper have won two of the last three Plates–Holy Helena (2017) and Shaman Ghost (2015).
Over the years, there have been several American owners that have won the Plate, including New York’s Earle Mack in 1993 with Peteski (Affirmed), who subsequently went on to sweep the Canadian Triple Crown with victories in the Prince Of Wales S. and the Breeders’ S.
Ramsey had four horses nominated to the Plate and, in conjunction with trainer Mike Maker, decided to run a string full-time this season at Woodbine, rather than shipping in and out.
“We hope to have three or four next year (in the Plate) and maybe a better quality of horse next year than what we’re running this year,” Ramsey said, adding that Americans are becoming more attracted to the Plate because of Woodbine’s relative proximity to many American racetracks.
“I think owners down here enjoy going back up there,” he continued. “I like the pomp and ceremony. It’s sort of like Royal Ascot. The people up there are in their morning coats and top hats. I plan on wearing the same outfit that I wore to Royal Ascot. The Queen (Elizabeth II) sent me a letter on Buckingham Palace stationary congratulating me on winning the Queen’s Plate, along with a check for 100 guineas. It’s an old tradition that started back in Queen Victoria’s reign. I’m not going to cash the check, because the whole thing is to remember. Most races don’t send you something like that.”
This will be the first horse Spendthrift will run in the Plate.
“We’re not as familiar with it as we would be with the Kentucky Derby, but we’re certainly aware it’s a very prestigious race,” Spendthrift General Manager Ned Toffey said. “For the most part, we felt like it was a good fit for this horse that we bought out of the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale at Gulfstream. For us, the Canadian-bred aspect was really incidental. Obviously that builds a little bit of value. It’s a nice position to have, but first and foremost what we’re looking for is stallion prospects. We really weren’t thinking about the Queen’s Plate or other things, but obviously we saw there’s some history there with his full-sister Enstone, who ran very well in Canada. We always knew that was a route we could take.”
As for the other half of the partnership on Alternative Route, Shannon Potter, Chief Executive Officer of Town And Country Racing, said the Plate is another outlet for a horse that may not like the dirt. Moreover, it has a significant purse of $1 million Canadian (or the equivalent of about $750,000 U.S.)
“It’s the ultimate get-out for us,” Potter said.