Monday, October 27, 2014

Guest Post: The Case for Flintshire in the BC Turf

--Mark Cramer

There are three essential reasons why Flintshire (GB) (Dansili {GB}) should be able to win the GI Breeders’ Cup Turf: track condition, the level of competition he's confronted, and the André Fabre cycle. It is often noted that horses coming from the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe face the constraint of a peak race plus short interval. However, both of Fabre's BC Turf winners, In the Wings in 1990 and Shirocco in 2006, came from the Arc, where they each finished fourth. So we can call it a pattern match for Flintshire. Call it the Arc de Triomphe as prep race.
 
Fabre's Arcangues, winner of the 1993 BC Classic at 133-1, "prepped" the day prior to the Arc, finishing 10th on a heavy track in the Prix Dollar.

Like Arcangues, Flintshire figures to improve on a dry surface. Given his record, Flintshire should relish drought-stricken California, where he will be delivered a firm surface. His record on tracks listed as soft would not warrant a trip to the BC: four races with a second-place finish, two fourths and an eighth. On tracks listed as good, he's won three and finished second three times. His seconds in the Epson Coronation Cup to Cirrus des Aigles (Fr) (Even Top {Ire}) and to Treve (Fr) (Motivator {GB}) in the recent Arc put him in the most elite company. Several of the horses that finished behind him in the Arc could have ended up favored in the BC Turf.

The problem is that Flintshire's win payout, that is, if he wins, figures to be less than the generous place return I got from him in the Arc. He is currently listed as race favorite in both Britain and the USA. Much more often than not, the heavy Euro favorite finishes behind a higher-odds Euro horse in BC races.

Such was the case in last year's BC Turf, when the even-money The Fugue (GB) (Dansili {GB}) got caught by Magician (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), trained by Aidan O'Brien, who was 7-1. Like Flintshire, Magician does his best racing when the surface gets firmer, but needs a patient ride.

Similarly, Michael Stoute's Telescope (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) has excelled when the surface is listed as good-to-firm. Telescope was defeated by the filly Taghrooda (GB) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) at his best distance of 12 furlongs at Ascot. The difference was three lengths. If you believe in "who beat who," then Flintshire looks good by comparison, having finished a length and a quarter ahead of the wide-racing Taghrooda in the Arc. The who-beat-whoers would also have to consider the horse that defeated Magician in the Arlington Million, Hardest Core (Hard Spun).

At this writing in the British books, Flintshire and Telescope are vying for favoritism between 7-2 and 4-1. You can get as much as 6-1 on Magician. Hardest Core is 12-1. The former European horse Main Sequence (Aldebaran) has followed the pattern of horses that have underachieved in Europe because they have craved firmer surfaces. He has thrived for Graham Motion on firm surfaces in the USA and his odds have been coming down to around 6-1. The American odds thus far have Flintshire at 7-2, Telescope 5-1 and Magician at 6-1, with Main Sequence, distinguished for winning photo finishes, also at 6-1.

Most factors still give Flintshire the edge, except for one: the odds. Can the man who has produced Breeders' Cup winners in double- and triple-figure payoffs do it again when he's got the favorite? Fabre faces multiple BC Turf-winning trainers Stoute and O'Brien, as well as the former Euro now longtime American, Graham Motion, who's also won a BC Turf.

Let's see the odds. Backing heavily bet Euro horses in the BC is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. With all the contention, we should demand a double-figure payoff.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Few Lessons from the Arc

by Mark Cramer
By now, everyone knows that Trêve (Fr)(Motivator {GB}) has scored an unprecedented repeat victory in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
But what happened in the three weeks between Trêve’s disappointing fourth in the Prix Vermeille and the convincing win in the Arc?

Alec and Criquette Head at the post race press conference
If you check the sanitized press release from France Galop, it would appear that owner Sheikh Joann Bin Hamad Al Thani knew in his heart that Trêve would be able to do it again. But Madame Christiane Head-Maarek told the press conference audience that “It was not easy to tell Sheikh Al Thani to not rule Trêve out of the Arc. In fact, she asked him to “just have faith in me”.
She was under pressure from others as well. Following the Vermeille, rider Thierry Jarnet said to the trainer, “Maybe you should retire her.”
To take what would seem to be such an extraordinary risk, Madame Head would need someone to encourage her. Her father and breeder of Trêve Alec Head never stopped believing in both the filly and his daughter. “I was certain she was going to win,” he said. “I’m crazy with joy for my daughter Criquette.”
One of the thousands of Japanese fans takes a picture
In the winners’ circle, Madame Head shed profuse tears of joy. She later told us that this victory was even sweeter than last year’s Arc. There was no secret that Trêve suffered from foot and back ailments. “After all the problems I went through with her, this was my best day ever,” she affirmed.
If a persistent and loving hands-on training led to this victory in the Arc, the story of the second half of the Arc exacta also involves perhaps the most underrated trainer skill of all: patience. As I hadmentioned in my previous article, “If the track is still dry, Flintshire becomes an in-the-money longshot inclusion.”
Flintshire (GB)(Dansili {GB}), trained by André Fabre, had been hounded by bad weather. As we noted, all of his poor performances occurred on soft or heavy tracks. But if you edited out those occasions, you ended up with a near perfect horse.
Mr. Fabre cannot control the weather, so he simply had to wait, scratching the horse on occasions when the track would come up too wet or grudgingly running him. Here in France we try to read the mind of Mr. Fabre, because unlike Madame Head, he does not talk to the press. But the word was out that Flintshire much preferred a firm surface. Still, he went off at 20/1. Even though Madame Head announced before the race that Trêve was much better now, her odds were up to 14/1.
It is highly unlikely that Trêve will come to the Breeders’ Cup. Sheikh Al Thani told Madame Head that he’d be “scared that something could happen to her”, and he’s said that Trêve would be retired.
On the other hand, Lord Teddy Grimthorpe, the representative of owner Prince Khaled Abdullah, Flintshire’s owner, announced that “He could now run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.”
I’m not sure I can handle next year’s Arc. Once again, I had to observe the disappointed faces of the legion of Japanese race lovers when two of the three Japanese stars made their gallant moves too late.
Both  Harp Star (Jpn)(Deep Impact {Jpn}), sixth, and Just a Way (Jpn) (Heart’s Cry {Jpn}), eighth, finished within a length of fourth place.

From Criquette Head and indirectly from André Fabre I learned a few lessons about patience and persistence. From the Japanese racing fans the lesson is to never give up. They will be back.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stable Mail Alert: 2yo Maiden Watch

--Steve Sherack

TDN’s Racing Editor Steve Sherack reveals a group of four well-bred 2-year-old maidens to keep an eye on this fall. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveSherackTDN.

PRETENTIOUS (c, 2, Super Saver--Turkappeal {MSW & MGSP, $280,440}, by Turkoman) Lifetime Record: 1-0-0-1, $9,000. O-DP Racing LLC; B-Farfellow Farms Ltd. (KY); T-James Cassidy. *$200,000 2yo ‘14 OBSAPR. **1/2 to Pink Champagne (Awesome Again), GSW, $145,957; and Z Appeal (Ghostzapper), SW.
   Hailing from the first crop of red-hot leading freshman sire Super Saver, Pretentious stamped himself as a very promising prospect with an impressive stretch rally to finish third going 5 1/2 furlongs over the Del Mar Polytrack Sept. 3 (video). Not given much respect at the windows at 15-1 in his unveiling despite sporting a flashy win-early pedigree (mare was a 2yo stakes winner and has also produced two debut winners), Pretentious was outsprinted early in ninth through fractions of :22.14 and :45.37. Still with plenty to do as they straightened for home, the dark bay found another gear when finally switching over to his right lead in the stretch and finished like a rocket on the outside to come within five lengths of smart wire-to-wire winner All Indians (Latent Heat). The $200,000 OBSAPR graduate continued to run on impressively after the wire as well, galloping out past the top two finishers on the clubhouse turn. Pretentious returned to the worktab with an easy five-furlong move in 1:02 2/5 at Santa Anita Sept. 17 and has been entered in a 6 1/2-furlong dirt test in Arcadia Saturday. Would love to see him eventually stretch out over grass down the line.

PROVEN COMMODITY (c, 2, Bernardini--Sahara Gold {GSW, $248,742}, by Seeking the Gold) Lifetime Record: 1-0-0-0, $4,150. O/B-Darley (KY); T-Tom Albertrani. *1/2 to Better Lucky (Ghostzapper), MGISW, $1,018,950; 3/4 to Sahara Heat (A.P. Indy), GSW, $170,858.
   Overlooked at 28-1 in his Aug. 9 Saratoga debut (video), Proven Commodity certainly gave his backers a good run for their money. Flashing some decent early speed from third for a barn not known for cranking up its firsters, the Darley homebred was hung out four wide on the far turn and gave the well-meant firster Requite (Warrior’s Reward) (subsequently a well-beaten fourth in the GI Hopeful S.) a brief challenge in the stretch before tiring to finish fourth, beaten 7 1/2 lengths. Should move forwardly nicely with that one under his belt for his patient barn.

 
RED GUARD (c, 2, Bernardini--Rose of Summer, by El Prado {Ire}) Lifetime Record: 1-0-0-0, $3,750. O-Lane’s End Racing; B-Graceville Breeding (KY); T-Shug McGaughey. *1/2 to Laragh (Tapit), GISW, $581,877; and Summer Front (War Front), MGSW & MGISP, $874,140.
   The well-bred Red Guard--a half-brother to GI Hollywood Starlet heroine Laragh and classy turfer Summer Front--caught the eye with a debut fourth for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey going seven furlongs over the Belmont turf Sept. 13 (video). Void of any early speed, the 14-1 shot was out of the picture for most of the way through somewhat easy early fractions of :22.92 and :46.58 over the firm going. Swung out to the center of the course at the top of the lane, Red Guard finally got going in mid-stretch and finished up with huge strides while racing on his incorrect lead to come within 2 1/2 lengths of the winner. Red Guard has worked once since, firing a three-furlong bullet in :35.74 at Belmont Park Sept. 24. Couldn't be in better hands.

WAGING WAR (c, 2, War Front--Sidle, by Seeking the Gold) Lifetime Record: 2-0-0-0, $7,840. O-Columbine Stable LLC; B-Claiborne Farm (KY); T-Al Stall Jr. *$350,000 yrl ‘13 KEESEP.
    After making a flashy five-wide move on the far turn when a debut fourth at Saratoga Aug. 2 (video), Waging War certainly looked like he’d be on his way to graduating at second asking. The Aug. 23 (video) crowd at Saratoga agreed and he was well-backed as the 9-5 chalk, but he failed to deliver, reporting home a well-beaten fifth behind the GI Champagne S.-bound Bayerd (Speightstown) (he was already in deep water before altering course to avoid an ill-fated foe in the stretch). Produced by a winning half-sister to GI Woodford Reserve Turf Classic S. hero Stroll (Pulpit), a switch to grass should help this son of War Front reach his full potential. He’s been training up a storm over the Churchill Downs main track since, most recently firing a best-of-36 five-furlong bullet in 1:00 2/5 Sept. 22.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guest Post: Bringing Kids Back to the Cup

--Carly Silver

   As a preteen living in Connecticut, I knew that very few of my peers shared my love of horse racing. While I pored over Edward L. Bowen's weighty tomes on great sires and mares of the past, other kids read comic books or Judy Blume novels. While I scoured pages of past performances in The Blood-Horse, my partners in puberty searched the racks for Juicy Couture. Needless to say, I was in search of kindred spirits.
   So I was thrilled when my mother found an organization called Kids to the Cup (KTTC), which took young racing fans to major races and behind the scenes on the backstretch. Finally, a people with whom I could share my love of Thoroughbreds! And KTTC didn't disappoint. With this group of like-minded people, I traveled across the country to Breeders' Cups. In particular, the 2002 rendition at Arlington Park and 2004 edition at Lone Star Park were highlights.
   I also attended Triple Crown races, and, in the process, met some of my all-time heroes. Where else could I have met trainer Bob Baffert and had the opportunity to ask him why he put War Emblem's 2002 Preakness Stakes trophy on his head in the winner's circle? His reply, "Because I'm a damn fool!" was priceless.
   It's also thanks to KTTC that I met Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin and former NBC racing analyst Charlsie Cantey. I took down their contact information; when I drew up an in-depth pedigree analysis of a 2004 Derby contender named Smarty Jones that showed the potential to get the mile-and-a-quarter distance, I sent it to them. Smarty came in first, and The Blood-Horse offered me, at age thirteen, my own digital column called "Teen Tracks." The rest, as they say, is history.
   In 2006, KTTC's founder, Trudy McCaffery, had to shut down the organization due to lack of funds. She passed away in 2007, leaving a void not only in the racing and philanthropic worlds, but also the lives of many young racing fans. Without her tireless efforts on our behalf, we never would have been able to experience the track first-hand and had our love of the sport nurtured to such a degree.
   I didn't grow up in Kentucky or on a farm with horses. No one in my family owned racehorses. I didn't live particularly close to a track. Therefore, it wasn't like I could easily become involved in racing by myself. Thanks to KTTC, I engulfed myself in racing lore and learned the ways of the track--and today, I am fortunate enough to still be just as in love with this sport as the day I watched my first Kentucky Derby.
   My generation of racing enthusiasts was fortunate enough to have the likes of Ms. McCaffery and KTTC's director, John DeSantis (fondly known to us as "Johnny D."), to encourage our love of the sport. But what about today's fledgling fans? What organizations do they have to have them meet their equine and human idols, to take them to the backstretch, to be thrilled by the stories of champions gone by?
   There has been some movement to create more fan support. In particular, America's Best Racing and Horse Racing Nation are excellent examples of building digital communities for racing enthusiasts. But talking about horses online is one thing. Getting to chat with trainers in the flesh, walk the backstretch, pet a future champion--these real-life experiences are far more valuable than sitting behind a computer.
   Ms. McCaffery was generous enough to donate her time and money to KTTC. But, going forward, more than one person should pioneer an effort to get young fans to the track. In a day and age where publications claim that horse racing isn't a viable sport, we need to cultivate the next generation of fans to ensure that Thoroughbred racing stays alive.
   Horse racing doesn't have a single commissioner (yet). But, along with medication issues, our diverse leaders need to agree upon how to encourage fan development. Tangible time at the track isn't realistic for everyone without some help from the industry itself, so let's make it happen.
   For example, the Breeders' Cup is in six weeks. Every year, KTTC would show fans from around the country the ropes at the Cup; they could experience the thrill of races live. It's too late to revive KTTC for this Cup, but why not make this an active item on the Jockey Club's agenda for next year? In 2015, the Cup will be run at Keeneland, heart of the Bluegrass State.
   I can tell you firsthand that nothing delights a kid who wants to eat, sleep, and breathe horses than actually doing so at a seminal event at one of the greatest tracks in the country. Meeting Wise Dan would be a thrill for any racing fan. Since we'll be in Kentucky next year. What if stud farms donated tours of their facilities? Kids could see what Tiznow or Orb look like up close, rather than watching their wins on YouTube.
   Bobby Frankel, D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Bob and Beverly Lewis... meeting these luminaries of 1990's and early 2000's racing became memories forever ingrained in my mind. Each individual kindly took time out of his or her day to welcome us into the sport, answer our questions, and show us around the backstretch. We truly were a herd of horse lovers unto ourselves, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

The author with Bobby Frankel

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Guest Post: A 'Dream' Encounter

--Carly Silver

   Like every other horse racing fan, I rejoiced at the birth of the Chosen One, the Savior of Equine-
kind: Jess's Dream. Born Jan. 22, 2012, the Curlin--Rachel Alexandra colt carries some of the best genetics possible in today's world. The product of two Horses of the Year (to be fair, Curlin earned that honor twice), Jess's Dream also carries the name of his sire and dam's mutual owner, the late Jess Jackson. With all of these high hopes, Jess's Dream has a lot riding on his withers.
Jess's Dream
   During my annual trip to Saratoga last week, I spent much of my trip pounding the racetrack pavement. Moving from the press box to the rail and back again--in between admiring glances at retiring announcer Tom Durkin's brightly-colored attire--I soaked up every dusty molecule of track life. But a Saratoga summer wouldn't be complete without seeing the horses themselves.
   Doing my best to blend in with dark sneakers, jeans, and a Saratoga cap, I made my way to the backstretch. I began in one barn where a kind groom invited me in after I explained I just wanted to admire his horses. A bright chestnut with a slender white blaze contentedly munched his hay, while a stunning gray filly, whose Arabian ancestry showed through in the delicacy of her face and arched neck, submitted to gentle forehead scratches.
   When I wandered a bit more, I found myself at a particularly quiet shed row. Peeping into two freestanding stalls, I saw a pretty bay filly who quirked her ears forward at my approach. The groom at that stable told me quietly whose stable this was. Though I had to strain my ears to hear him, I eventually heard the magic words: "Kiaran McLaughlin."
   For a racing fan, this was like discovering the Holy Grail. McLaughlin has some of the pre-eminent horses in the world in his stable, as well as the most beautifully bred runners this side of Keeneland. Besides Stonestreet Stables of Jackson's widow, Barbara Banke, his other owners include the likes of Darley/Godolphin and Shadwell Stable. But perhaps the most exciting horse in his barn is a Stonestreet 2-year-old--the aforementioned Jess's Dream.
   I knew that Jess's Dream was stabled at Saratoga, but I wasn't sure if His Royal Highness was currently receiving visitors. After all, I was a huge fan of both his mom and dad, but let's be honest, who wasn't? That didn't mean that Jess would grant me an audience. The groom, thankfully, said I could say a quick hello to the colt, but I'd have to remain clear of his teeth. Like most other youngsters, he had a habit of nipping, and the last thing I wanted was to end up on the wrong end of a Thoroughbred's teeth, although getting a bad bite from the son of two champions would definitely be a story to tell in the emergency room.
   Like most other horses in the McLaughlin barn, Jess's Dream had a simple brass nameplate with his name and pedigree on it. Was it my imagination, though, or was his burnished extra brightly? Or maybe it glowed from within from all the potential future Eclipse Awards looming on his horizon. Either way, there was one handsome young man in that stall.
   Keeping the groom's advice in the back of my mind, I avoided Jess's teeth as he flung his head back and forth. I crept within speaking distance, talking in a soothing voice as I looked him up and down. He's an imposing colt, but his brawny good looks don't signify a lack of brains. Jess kept a wary eye on me as I stood nearby.
   "Do you know who you are?" I said quietly. "Your mom and dad were champions, you know. That's a lot of weight to carry. And that's not even counting the ones the handicappers put on you." Jess didn't seem to care, though. Maybe, like his sire, he'd grow up to be a top older horse who could shoulder heavy weights while taking on the best of two different crops. Either way, the statuesque bay exhibited every sign of a horse who knew he's something special.
   At one point, the statuesque bay with a small white star stopped shifting about his stall for a moment or two. He gave me a look that said, "Yes, I'm aware of who my parents are. Thanks for being the umpteenth person to remind me. And just watch me run, coming soon to a track near you!" Though I could tell he hadn't yet filled out completely or matured mentally, his beautiful lines and intelligent eyes indicated that he had the potential to be a stellar individual.
   Smiling, I shuffled off back to the track. I was just another in a long line of humans who would dote on Jess, I was sure, but maybe I could be one of the few to say they met him way back when…before Jess's Dream became a reality.
 
 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Haskell: A Day of Summer Fun...and Pretending?

--Drew Rauso

   Back in my very first post, the opening line was a quote about how little informed people my age are about the sport of racing. The line was, “I like that one’s name; he’s my favorite.” Today, a week before the William Hill Haskell Invitational, a similarly uninformed conversation was struck up between yours truly and several other excited 20-somethings.
    “You have to go! It’s so much fun; we dress classy and then drink all afternoon." Now, being in the same age bracket as these lovely friends of mine, I have grown accustomed to the word “classy” being thrown around like a Frisbee at a summer party. However, as many as my friends and all the other countless young Haskell-goers will soon see, the classiest event they’ll be going to is work the next morning.
   Here in the heart of central New Jersey, the Haskell spells summer just as much as the beach; everyone from Long Branch to Middletown and in between marks their calendars every year to attend the $1 million race. Unfortunately, the race takes a backseat to the afternoon of drinking, socializing and eating. In taking a closer look, though, is that such a bad thing?
   The race attracts upwards of 45,000+ people, and at $5 a head for a grandstand ticket and $8 for the clubhouse, Monmouth Park will take in a considerable amount of cash next weekend. When all those tickets are paid for, do the businessmen of the sport really care if they’re watching the race or not? In their eyes, couldn’t it be said that they have already won, getting the money out of the spectators’ pockets and into the cash flow of the park.
   While 50,000 people isn’t even close to what the Triple Crown races attract, the well-known park in Oceanport handles the crowd well, with games and activities abounding. This year, in what may be seen as a direct grab to attract more young people, Monmouth Park has teamed up with Lily Pulitzer and Tommy Bahama. The “Best Dressed” couple will receive a $200 gift card to both stores, and I can only describe it as a marketing ploy toward the many 20-year-olds who would love to get $200 for looking “fresh.”

The Great Gatsby
www.media-feed.com
   This part of the Haskell, the part where young people like dressing up to go a horse race and appear (dare-I-say) classy, is where the pretending comes in to play. In much the same way that a country music artist arrives at PNC Arts Center to thousands of ripped jeans, cowboy boots and hats, there is a facade at the track. This veil, with which seemingly more and more central Jerseyans like to cover reality, has a southern twang to it. While understanding that racing and the south do not go hand-in-hand, it just doesn’t feel right to be in pastel shorts, bowties and oversized hats north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but maybe that’s just me. At the same time, if that is the point-of-entry racing needs to attract young people, then so be it. Run with the dress-up advertisement as a throwback; everybody loves a Gatsby party, right?
   Let the racegoers get drawn to the track for reasons other than racing, if that is what works (and after my conversations, it is) and let the grandeur of the sport in person work its magic. There is no use in trying to market the race, while as some people would say it is extremely important, without the title of Triple Crown hanging overhead, the vast majority just won’t find it captivating. But that is alright! Let them be convinced otherwise AT THE TRACK, not before they get there. Even to the casual fan, there are recognizable names that ran in the Triple Crown races, so the level of pedigree will be acknowledged. Wildcat Red, Social Inclusion and Bayern are some of the horses that I personally remember seeing over the last couple months.

Bayern
www.SportsNetwork.com
   While it may be a hard pill to swallow, maybe the best way to advertise racing is not to advertise it all. Put on more “Best Dressed” promotions, or other seemingly silly contests so that people feel like they can be a part of something all afternoon. The Haskell hat, now a local tradition, is another great marketing tool. It can never be said enough, but everyone loves free stuff. Then, once the crowds are at the track, let the animals speak for themselves. In terms of a marketing gambit, trying to convince young people that the Haskell is a very important race not named Kentucky, Preakness nor Belmont is an incredibly difficult task.
   The lure of the track is unavoidable; don’t hinder its magic by over-advertising. Let the day speak for itself, and fans will come to watch, drink, hang out and spend money. Heck, I know I will.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Race Fit for a Queen?


by Christina Bossinakis
    Neatly nestled between a pair of the iconic race meetings at Royal Ascot and Saratoga, the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto is an event I always look forward to. Maybe it’s because I am a native Canadian or it could be that I enjoy the pomp and circumstance that the 1 1/4-mile race draws. Or maybe it has something to do with the presence of royalty (that doesn’t happen every year, but it is always exciting when it does). However, I think one of the biggest reasons I enjoy the Queen’s Plate so is that I grew up enjoying Canadian racing during a time when Canadians really didn’t receive a steady diet of American racing on TV outside of the American Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup.
   First held in 1860, the Queen’s Plate holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously run race in North America. Yes, that makes it older than its American counterpart, the Kentucky Derby, which was first run in 1875. Canadians are intensely proud of their marquee race and its long and storied history. I attended my first Queen’s Plate in 1989, the year that The Queen Mother was in attendance, and Kinghaven Farms’ With Approval won. The classy grey went on to take the next two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown–the Prince of Wales S. at Fort Erie and Breeders’ S. In fact, I was actually in attendance at Woodbine to witness Canada crown With Approval as its eighth Triple Crown winner (the third since the three races were actually called the ‘Triple Crown’). What a moment. That whole experience helped stoke my passion for racing and is a big reason why I remain a fan of Canadian racing today.
Northern Dancer
   As a Canadian living in the U.S. for many years now, I have heard my fair share of Canadian jokes. I’ve been referred to as a Canuck, a hoser and everything in between. People often think I must say, ‘Ay’ (for the record, I do not) and I am chided for my Canadian accent (like the way I might say ‘out and about’ or ‘dollar’). As a result, I never really get overly worked up when my American counterparts poke fun at the Queen’s Plate, suggesting it is not a legitimate Classic. That is until a recent exchange with somebody whose opinion I admire and point of view I value tremendously. The argument was that the race is not a ‘true’ Classic, because restricted races could not be considered Classics. I reacted as any Canadian worth their salt would in a similar situation. My back went up, way up. I have to admit, I became very defensive because the Queen’s Plate and its champions have always been something that I have been very staunchly proud.
   ‘What about Northern Dancer?’ I thought. He won the Plate in 1964, the same season he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and later went on to become one of the greatest sires of all time. I instantly thought a bevy of champion fillies that have also won it, including Flaming Page (1962, 2nd in Kentucky Oaks; dam of Euro Triple Crown and champion sire Nijinsky II & Epsom Derby hero The Minstrel); and La Lorgnette (1985; dam of G1SW Hawk Wing). We can’t forget Canadian Triple Crown heroine Dance Smartly, a juvenile champion in Canada, and who added a 3yo filly title in both Canada and the U.S. following a win in the BC Distaff. In turn, she produced Dancethruthedawn (won in 2001), who went on to take Saratoga’s Go For Wand. Past winners also include New Providence (Canadian Triple Crown hero in ‘59); Victoria Park (1960; HOTY in Canada; 2nd in Blue Grass & Preakness; 3rd in Ky Derby); the aforementioned With Approval (Canadian HOTY in 1989; winner of the GII Bowling Green, 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Arlington Million & Sword Dancer); and Alydeed (1992; winner of the GI Carter and runner-up in the Preakness). And who can forget 1997 winner Awesome Again, who went on to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Whitney before embarking on a successful career at stud in the U.S.

Awesome Again
   So after patting myself on the back for coming up with the list of top notch horses that were competitive at the highest level, both in Canada and in the States, I quickly realized several factors. First, the most recent of this group to win the Plate was Awesome Again in 1997. One can argue that Wild Desert, the 2005 Plate winner, later placed in both the GI Clark and GI Suburban and should be considered among the top horses who were able to extend their form south of the border. However, I have to admit, I just didn’t think of him. Though he was conditioned by one of the best American trainers of all time, Bobby Frankel, he was neither a graded winner nor a champion. Upon further investigation, the second issue I found enlightening although not surprising was that every one of the horses that I felt stood out, in my mind at least, were bred or campaigned by a handful of breeding/racing titans in the Canadian Thoroughbred industry; Winfields Farm (5); Kinghaven Farms (2); Sam-Son Farm (2) and Frank Stronach (1). I can already feel I will become assaulted by those of you who feel I left out such top-class performers like Kennedy Road (1971); L’Enjouleur (1975); Steady Growth (1979); Key to the Moon (1984); Golden Choice (1986); Izvestia (1990); Peteski (1993) and Wando (2003) (by the way, several of these horses were also bred/campaigned by those industry leaders . All lovely horses, to be sure. However, my point is, how many of those would people from outside of Canada, and who don’t particularly follow the Canadian racing scene, even recognize?
   In the last 25 years, we have seen many of the influential breeding/racing operations scale back or disappear entirely (although Sam-Son did win the Plate in 2009 with Eye of the Leopard). The argument becomes how many of the winners in the last 10 or 15 years have gone on to race at the highest level, and have an impact, outside of Canada? While some might argue that is not a big deal in itself, I counter that it is significant since it has become quite commonplace for horses to ship across the border to compete in the big races in our neighbor’s backyard.
   One of my favorite racetracks in North America, Woodbine has done a fantastic job promoting and developing races like the Woodbine Mile and Canadian International into events that not only draw runners from south of the border, but from across the pond as well. It’s hard to dismiss the fact that the influx of top-grade runners strengthens the Canadian industry. Well, why not take it a step further and open the Queen’s Plate (and in fact, the entire Canadian Triple Crown) to runners bred outside of Canada?
   I can hear the cries of disdain and the accusations of treason already. I understand that the Queen’s Plate is Canada’s big prize, meant to reward Canadians for all their efforts in owning, breeding, riding and training racehorses. However, opening it to foreign breds would not only mean a boost in the level of competition domestically, but it would also bolster the significance of the Canadian bred outside of the country. Canada’s Sovereign Awards (equivalent to Eclipse Awards in the U.S.) can only be bestowed upon a horse that has raced in Canada no less than three times (as a 3yo; 2 times at two); well why can’t participation in the Triple Crown races be structured similarly? The increased interest from owners and trainers outside of Canada would not only make the Queen’s Plate itself more competitive, but it would also serve to draw stronger fields to the Triple Crown’s traditional prep races. Competitive fields would in turn generate greater betting handle on domestic races, which in this day and age is no small thing. And for those that might argue that opening up the races to outside runners would be taking money away from Canadians, there could be an additional nomination fee levied on horses bred outside of the country and that could be added to the purse. Ultimately, stronger participation would mean the race could become eligible to garner graded status, which would prove be of even greater significance to a horses’ stud career upon his or her retirement.
   I want to be clear, the goal is not to take something away from Canadians or dilute Canada’s historic race(s). Rather, the hope is that the Queen’s Plate could be structured into a format that would leave no room to doubt that it is anything but a veritable Classic.