Trainer Reade Baker will saddle a trio of top contenders in Sunday’s $1-million Canadian Classic led by Oaks-winning filly Academic and the maiden-winning colts Bear At Last and Breaking Lucky.
Bear Stables’ Academic, with Justin Stein up, romped to a 66-1 score in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser. It was just the second start of the year for the daughter of Henny Hughes-Awesome Lass. Her mile and one-eighth time of 1.48.86 was a track record and nearly one second faster than it took Danish Dynaformer to win the Trial a race before.
“She came out of it great,” said Baker of the talented bay. “We’ll bring her over there on race day and hope for the best.”
Academic made three juvenile starts, topped by a second-place effort on October 12, her first run around two turns, in a maiden allowance route in which she set the pace before being collared by Shez a Masterpiece. The Baker trainee graduated in her sophomore debut with a smart neck score prior to her Oaks shocker.
Sending a longshot into the Oaks didn’t phase Baker.
“It was a huge opportunity,” said Baker. “She wasn’t really ready for her race last year against (Oaks rival) Shez a Masterpiece, who was supposedly one of the better fillies around here. I thought we could have beat her (Shez a Masterpiece) that day, but we were maybe a little green or not fit enough. If you make her equal to her (Shez a Masterpiece), why not give her the opportunity in the Oaks. It’s a one shot chance just like the Plate.”
Baker believes the little bay miss, with Stein returning, is capable of another surprise score on Sunday.
“I’ve had luck with small fillies,” said Baker. “Size wise, she’s comparable to Bear Now and she made $1.3-million.”
Bear Stables’ Bear At Last, a one-time winner in 11 outings, will be piloted once again on Sunday by Rico Walcott. A son of champion Marchfield, the dark bay finished seventh in the Plate Trial, a race in which he was shuffled back at the turn.
“He was definitely compromised, but I don’t know what it means as far as the results go, because there were lots of horses compromised,” said Baker. “If you watch close, at the end of the race he’s going as fast as anyone else and wasn’t beat that far. He’s bred to go the distance, so we’ll give him a chance. Rico thinks it’s a good idea, so we’ll bring him out and try again.”
With 11 races under his belt, the rallying Bear At Last will be, by far, the most experienced horse in the Plate field.
“He’s certainly fit enough, we don’t have to worry about that,” said Baker. “It’s nice to have a horse with a different kind of style, because you don’t know how the track will play that day.”
Breaking Lucky, owned by Gunpowder Farms, broke his maiden at Woodbine in April, and then was second and seventh in two subsequent route allowance races. The son of 2010 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky was a $100,000 Keeneland weanling purchase.
Last time out, with Antonio Gallardo up, Breaking Lucky finished a disappointing seventh in an allowance route while facing older company.
“He was rank around the first turn, he kept throwing his head,” said Baker. “I don’t mind the regression in the last race, we’re looking for a booming race this time. We’re looking for his lifetime best and I think we’ll get it.”
At press time, Baker had yet to decide who will ride the chestnut in the Plate.
With three contenders in the mix, Baker is quietly optimistic of his chances in Sunday’s test.
“There are six or seven nice horses in there,” said Baker. “When you take Breaking Lucky’s Beyer (Speed Figure) of 76, the 84 on Academic and the 83 on Bear At Last, there aren’t many horses with better numbers than that on the Poly. I think all three of those horses are right in the range.”
Baker, in search of his first Plate score, is most wary of another veteran horseman when assessing the Plate field.
“You always have to worry about Roger Attfield in the Plate. He’s won the race eight times,” said Baker.
And as for his own chances?
“I’ve been here at Woodbine a long time, almost 50 years. I came with my sister to watch Northern Dancer win the Plate in 1964,” smiled Baker. “It’s been a long time. If it’s in the cards, it’s in the cards. You can’t worry about horses getting beat. Secretariat got beat, it happens.”
MILWAUKEE MIST MAKES CANADIAN DEBUT IN THE PLATE
He’ll be a longshot when the gates open for the 156th running of the Queen’s Plate, but Milwaukee Mist has certainly shown a penchant for outrunning his odds. Can he pull the ultimate upset on July 5 at Woodbine?
A bay son of Milwaukee Brew, Milwaukee Mist, unraced at two, rained on his rivals’ parade in his career bow at Turfway Park on January 3. Sent off at 29-1, the Ontario-bred drew clear in the stretch and won by a length on the main track.
After a fifth in his next start, the 96Rock Stakes, ‘Mist’ came back and finished third, at 66-1, in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, also at Turfway.
“He’s taken on some pretty tough competition here in the U.S.,” said trainer Pavel Matejka. “I really think he’s going to like the (Plate distance) 1 ¼ miles. Hopefully, we can get an outside post, get him to settle and then make a nice run when he’s called on.”
Gary Boulanger, who won the Plate in 2001 with filly Dancethruthedawn, will pilot Milwaukee Mist in Sunday’s ‘Gallop for the Guineas.’
“We’re all very excited to be part of this race,” said Matejka. “We freshened him up with some nice works and we feel good about how he’s coming into the race. Hopefully, our first chance to be in the Queen’s Plate is a memorable one.”
VELLA HOPING TO HIT A HOMERUN WITH AULT
In 2012, trainer Dan Vella won the Queen’s Plate with Strait of Dover, a Canyon Farms homebred son of English Channel. Vella returns, with the same connections, in this year’s $1-million event with yet another son of English Channel, the improving chestnut Ault.
Ault, a B.C.-bred maiden, finished second in a pair of maiden allowance sprints as a juvenile before heading to Florida for the winter. Following a pair of off-the-board results on the Gulfstream turf, Vella returned to Woodbine hoping to race the colt into the Plate.
“The Plate was really our plan right from the start. We took him to Florida and we were hoping that we could accomplish something on the turf down there and push him forward,” explained Vella. “Unfortunately, that didn’t work out so it put us back a step and then we got back to Toronto and he had a bruised foot for a while which set us back a bit more.”
The patient Vella, who also won the Plate in 1994 with Frank Stronach’s Basqueian, brought Ault back to the races in a June 6 maiden allowance route versus older company. Sent to post at odds of 8-1, and sitting 10 lengths off the pace at the second call, Ault dug down deep to finish a rallying second behind the five-year-old Impetuous Act.
“We thought he ran a huge race and really thought he improved a lot and decided to go ahead (to the Plate),” said Vella. “He’s very versatile, that’s what is best about him. He can show a bit of speed if you want. He can show a turn of foot to run well going short but he’ll turn off if you want him to. He’s versatile and that’s an asset in a big field.”
Vella was to the point when asked if he saw any physical similarities between Strait of Dover and Ault.
“No,” said Vella. “Strait of Dover was a stalky, front-running powerhouse. This guy is slighter, not very big, but what they do have in common is that they run all day. There’s a lot of depth to them. Other than that, they’re two different types. Dover was single-minded and aggressive and a take-all-challengers kind of guy. This guy is happy-go-lucky, a bit of a playboy, but he will go all day and if he settles, like he did in his last start, it could go very well.”
Vella isn’t too concerned about starting a maiden in the Plate.
“He got beat a neck last time or we wouldn’t be having that discussion,” said Vella. “I don’t think it matters. He was closing hard on much older horses on a day that the pace favoured the older horse…we think he’ll improve a lot off his last race. I don’t think he knows any different.”
Vella added, “He wouldn’t be the first English Channel or the first B.C.-bred either to win the Plate.”
Ault, should he win, would be the fourth maiden to win the Plate since 1952, the last maiden Plate winner being Scatter the Gold in 2000.
QUEEN’S PLATE DRAW AVAILABLE LIVE ON WEBSITE
A reminder that Thursday’s Queen’s Plate morning draw from the Woodbine walking ring will be streamed live at www.queensplate.com. Further information and event details for Plate day are available there.
EARLY LOOK AT THE JULY 5 QUEEN’S PLATE PROBABLE FIELD (15)
HORSE / TRAINER / OWNER / JOCKEY
Academic / Reade Baker / Bear Stables / Justin Stein
Ami’s Flatter / Josie Carroll / Ivan Dalos / Luis Contreras
Ault / Dan Vella / Canyon Farms / David Moran
Bear At Last / Reade Baker / Bear Stables / Rico Walcott
Billy’s Star / Roger Attfield / Perfect Timber Partnership / Eurico da Silva
Breaking Lucky / Reade Baker / Gunpowder Farms LLC / TBA
Conquest Boogaloo / Mark Casse / Conquest Stables LLC / Alan Garcia
Conquest Curlinate / Mark Casse / Conquest Stables LLC / Shaun Bridgmohan
Danish Dynaformer / Roger Attfield / Charles Fipke / Patrick Husbands
Easy Indygo / Nick Gonzalez / Tucci Stables / Emma-Jayne Wilson
Milwaukee Mist / Pavel Matejka / Preston Stables LLC / Gary Boulanger
Oakton / Mark Casse / Bill and Vicki Poston Racing Inc. / TBA
Portree / Stuart Simon / Chiefswood Stable / Gerry Olguin
Shaman Ghost / Brian Lynch / Stronach Stables / Rafael Hernandez
Sweet Grass Creek / Mike Keogh / Gustav Schickedanz / Jesse Campbell