TORONTO – Jockey Patrick Husbands is hoping he can turn back the clock Sunday afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack in suburban Toronto.
In 2003, Husbands landed aboard the horse that ultimately became Canada’s last Triple Crown winner when jockey Todd Kabel had to decide between two horses to ride in the Queen’s Plate.
Kabel chose Mobil over eventual champion Wando and the rest was history. Husbands rode Wando to a nine-length victory over the first choice in the Plate and went on to sweep the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie and the Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine to claim Canada’s 12th Triple Crown.
Fast forward 13 years to Wednesday morning, and Husbands once again found himself in the ironic position of waiting on another jockey’s decision regarding his Plate horse. This time it was Luis Contreras who had to choose his mount between a colt or a filly for Sunday afternoon’s 157th Queen’s Plate, scheduled post at 5:36 p.m. He has raced the two horses a combined 12 times.
Contreras, currently second in Woodbine’s jockey standings, selected the colt and morning line favorite Amis Gizmo (3-1), basing his decision on morning workouts. “I breezed both horses, and I felt more comfortable with the colt, so I went with Gizmo,” Contreras told The News on Wednesday morning.
As for Husbands, he was more than happy with his rival’s decision and getting the mount on Gamble’s Ghost (5-1). “The boys are not that tough this year, she has a very good chance,” said Husbands. “The race is going so far you have so much time to get into the first turn, I am just looking forward to a clean trip.”
Trainer Josie Carroll, who conditions both horses, gave Contreras the nod to make the choice on who to ride based on the work he put in on both. She has two Queen’s Plates on her resume, one with a colt (Edenwold, 2006) and the other with a filly (Inglorious, 2011). “They are two really nice horses, but they’re two very, very different horses. The one horse likes to be forwardly placed; the one’s going to be a closer,” Carroll told the national racing media in a teleconference on Tuesday.
Carroll and Contreras worked with Amis Gizmo, a horse who liked to be on the lead. “Through his two-year old career he’s been pretty forwardly placed in all his races and he was gradually getting more and more aggressive and our concern was the aim being the mile-and-a-quarter race. Luis worked with him quite a bit, at first getting him to relax a little bit and it really came to fruition in the Plate Trial. He dropped a bit and when he did pick it up he just floated,” said Carroll.
The filly, Gamble’s Ghost, is a deep closer who found trouble in the Woodbine Oaks. Her outside post position in the Plate may be just the recipe to keep her out of traffic and settle back into a good spot. She’ll also receive a five-pound weight break as a filly in the race restricted for 3-year-olds bred in Canada.
“She showed so much talent particularly in that last race,” said Carroll. “I mean she had a very troubled trip, got knocked around, got cut up a little bit from being stepped on, then it looked like she was going to get there in the stretch and another horse came up and bothered her. So despite all that she just kept on trying. She’s a tenacious filly.”
Gamble’s Ghost was sired by Ghostzapper, who also fathered last year’s Plate winner Shaman Ghost. Plate contender Esposito (8-1) also was sired by the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and named for Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Esposito.
One horse that could send both the Carroll horses packing is owned by Saratoga-based West Point Thoroughbreds. Scholar Athlete (12-1) comes in off a big turf win at Belmont Park and has current Belmont leading rider Jose Ortiz in the irons.
Trainer Graham Motion made two equipment changes on the son of Einstein after a dull effort at Turfway Park by putting on the blinkers and gelding him. “When we ran him in the Rushaway at Turfway and when Alan” Garcia “got off him he just said that he really wasn’t paying attention, so that was when we made the decision to geld him and add blinkers, which is a fairly dramatic move for me to do both, but it certainly seemed to pay dividends at Belmont,” said Motion.
It will be his first race on a Tapeta surface, a synthetic track installed earlier this year at Woodbine, but that is little concern for Motion who trains Scholar Athlete at Fair Hill in Maryland. “We do have Tapeta at Fair Hill, but this will be the first horse I run at Woodbine so the idiosyncrasies of the track are a little bit new to me, but I feel very confident that he’ll handle it and he really is a synthetic horse,” said Motion. “I think he handles it much better than the dirt.”
The News asked West Point partner Sherm Cunningham what it would mean to steal the Plate trophy and bring it back south of the border. “We have a Canadian horse, and a Canadian horse is going to win, so it’s really not stealing, we’ll just be borrowing it for a bit,” said Cunningham.
Trainer Roger Attfield will be looking for a record-breaking ninth Queen’s Plate win on Sunday with Shakhimat (5-1), the Plate Trial runner-up behind Amis Gizmo. Questions surrounding the distance and his need for the front end in a race with plenty of speed are concerns for the classy colt.
In addition to Esposito, another horse to consider in the exotics is All On Red (12-1). Sid Attard trains the Hard Spun colt who has impressed in his last two efforts for JMJ Racing. He has the stamina to handle the distance and has impressed in the mornings for Attard, who is seeking his first Plate win in his sixth attempt. I’m willing to spin the wheel on this lightly raced colt and use him along with Esposito underneath in Canada’s most famous race.
With speed holding up pretty well so far on the new Tapeta surface at Woodbine, we’ll look for an upset in this year’s Plate of the top two Carroll entries. West Point’s Scholar Athlete is the pick to hold off the late charging filly at the wire, with Amis Gizmo holding on to complete the trifecta.
Wouldn’t that make for a fine Fourth of July trip across the border with the Queen’s Plate trophy?
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Scholar Athlete; 2 – Gamble’s Ghost; 3 – Amis Gizmo; and 4 – All On Red.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.