TORONTO — Channeling his sire's stamina, Strait of Dover wired the field, setting a polytrack record in winning the 153rd Queen's Plate at Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday afternoon.
Before a full house, the English Channel colt went the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.99 to win Canada's most famous race and the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
Jockey Justin Stein won his first Plate riding Strait of Dover ($9.60, $5.80 and $4.30), who entered the race off a six-week layoff. Trainer Daniel Vella won his second Queen's Plate, last winning in 1994 with Basqueian.
The fractions were an honest 23.85, 47.74, 1:12.31 and 1:37.07. The winner held off the late charging filly and Woodbine Oaks champion Irish Mission ($8.40 and $6.20), who finished second by 1 1/4 lengths. The $1 exacta paid $54.20.
The filly Dixie Strike ($5.50) finished third for trainer Mark Casse, who still is seeking his first Queen's Plate. The $1 trifecta paid $275.75 and the $1 superfecta with Colleen's Sailor underneath paid $4,271.35.
Fillies have had a lot of success recently in this race, with Inglorious winning last year's edition and Milwaukee Appeal finishing third in 2009.
The winner started his career at Hastings Race Course in British Columbia, but did not take to the one-mile dirt track there, losing his first two career starts by a combined 30 lengths under trainer Cindy Krasner. The owners, the Leongs of Canyon Farms, decided to ship him to Toronto under the tutelage of Vella.
"The credit goes to Danny and his crew. If it wasn't for him we wouldn't be here and with the ride that Justin made," said owner Wally Leong.
Vella gave the reins to his jockey and he was happy with the way he rode his horse.
"I really believe in the end he is a great horse and he made the fractions. They were honest fractions," Vella said.
The second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown is slated for Fort Erie Race Track on Sunday, July 15, and it could be the second straight year that the Plate winner skips the Prince of Wales. Last year, Inglorious' connections decided to try the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga instead. With Strait of Dover's breeding and his early history of difficulty on dirt, Vella has to decide whether to run at the Fort.
"He's bred for the turf. Someday we'll try it, but we're making a living right now," said Vella, declining to commit to a plan for the Prince of Wales. "As for Fort Erie, it's a tough decision for us. ...Right now we're going to enjoy this one."
It's been a pretty good year for jockeys that have surfaced from Hastings Race Course, with Mario Gutierrez winning the first two legs of the American Triple Crown. Stein added this year's first Canadian classic to that total. Stein, a popular jockey at the BC track, left Hastings in 2005 to ride regularly at Woodbine.
"It's been a tremendous year for Vancouver, it was sort of like fate, almost like it was meant to be," Stein said.
"The stars were aligned with Gutierrez winning the Derby and the Preakness and my horse coming into the Plate the way he did, dominant and myself being there," he said. "Then, of course, we have the Vancouver rain now falling on Toronto."
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.