Holy Helena, an impressive winner of the 1 1/8 mile Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser, in just her third career start, was even better when facing males for the first time in Sunday’s $1-million Queen’s Plate.
The 158th running of the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate, North America’s oldest annually run stakes race, lured a field of 13 Canadian-bred 3-year-olds vying for shares of the $1 million pot.
Luis Contreras had picked up the mount on Stronach Stables’ Holy Helena for the first time in the Woodbine Oaks, which she won by one length. In the Queen’s Plate, her margin of victory was 3 ½ lengths.
“I was very confident today after winning the Oaks, and last Monday I breezed her on the surface and she did it pretty easy,” said Contreras, who won his second Queen’s Plate, the first coming with the filly Inglorious in 2011.
As expected, State of Honor had made the early pace in the Queen’s Plate through a quarter in :24.17, half in :48.67, and six furlongs in 1:13.23. Megagray, who had stalked the front-runner from second place in his first start with blinkers, poked his head in front in early stretch and led by that margin with the mile going in 1:37.64.
Holy Helena, who was the 2-1 favourite, had moved into third heading around the far turn and had dead aim on the leaders.
“I got a dream trip, really,” said Contreras. “She broke really good. She gave me a lot of time to see the horses outside of me, what they are going to do, what they are trying to do. She was so nice and relaxed behind those horses and I had a lot of horse at the 3/8th (pole), so I took a look back to see where everybody was. I waited for the [final] quarter pole to run.”
Tiz a Slam, who was looking to give trainer Roger Attfield his record Queen’s Plate win and break a deadlock with Harry Giddings Jr., closed stoutly from midpack and finished second, 1 ¾ lengths before the third finisher.
“I could not be more happy,” said Tiz a Slam’s rider Eurico Rosa Da Silva.
Inflexibility, who finished third in the Woodbine Oaks, replicated that placing for trainer Chad Brown as the only other filly in the Queen’s Plate field under jockey Javier Castellano.
“It was good,” said Castellano, who had placed Inflexibility within striking distance and finished well in the latter stages. “I wish there was a little more pace in the race to set it up. She fought past the horses despite the slow pace and she still finished really strong.”
Channel Maker, the first Queen’s Plate entrant for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, made a run from well off the pace before flattening out to finish fourth, a half-length behind Inflexibility as the 6-1 third choice.
Both Megagray and Spirit of Caledon performed above expectations in finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.
King and His Court, Canada’s champion 2-year-old male, never entered serious contention and ended seventh with State of Honor, his Mark Casse-trained barnmate, eighth. Aurora Way, bet down to 5-1 second favourite despite having only one maiden victory under his belt, was prominent early but weakened to finish ninth.
Completing the order of finish were Plate Trial winner Guy Caballero, Malibu Secret, Watch Me Strut, and Vaughan.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who was being represented by his first Queen’s Plate entrant, was at Belmont on Sunday and racing manager Mike Doyle spoke for the Stronach Stable outfit.
“She arrived in fantastic shape and maintained it the whole way through,” said Doyle, who also trains a string of his own here at Woodbine. Jimmy (Jerkens) and I, and the whole team here, we’re in touch every day.
“I think she could be very good. What she did there today, with so much ease, was incredible,” said Doyle. “She ran faster than the Dominion Day yesterday won by a good horse who has been around for a little while (Melmich). I’d say she could be very special.”
In winning the Queen’s Plate, Holy Helena became the eighth filly to complete the Oaks-Plate double since Woodbine opened its gates in 1956.
The Queen’s Plate win was the fourth as owner/breeder for Team Stronach, their latest success coming with Shaman Ghost in 2015.
“I think she is a very good horse,” said Stronach, of Holy Helena. “I put a lot of effort in, a lot of time in and naturally I can put all the money in and do everything great, but you still need some luck.”
The 13-race Queen’s Plate card produced a record handle of $13,560,678 eclipsing the $11,839,883 number of a year ago.
Holy Helena returned $6.30, $4.10 and $3.10 and topped a 3-12 exacta with Tiz a Slam ($7.20, $5.10) worth $59.90. The 3-12-5 trifecta with Inflexibility ($4.90) paid $361.90 and the 3-12-5-1 superfecta ending with Channel Maker was worth $822.15 for $1.