FORT ERIE – Like he was flung out of a slingshot, Amis Gizmo soared home to win the Prince of Wales Tuesday night, leaving his nearest competitors in the Fort Erie dust.
On a beautiful Southern Ontario evening at Fort Erie Race Track, the son of Giant Gizmo won the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown after finishing a disappointing second in the Queen’s Plate.
The winner and post time favorite went off at odds of 7-5, beating second-place finisher Leavem in Malibu by 5 ½-lengths to win the 81st running of the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes. The winner is owned by Ivan Dalos, trained by Josie Carroll and was ridden by Luis Contreras.
Amis Gizmo finished the trek in 1.56.76 to win the middle jewel in impressive fashion. He returned $4.70 to win, $3.10 to place and $2.70 to show. Leavem in Malibu paid $4.90 to place and $4.50 to show. Newcomer to the Canadian Triple Crown Trail Niigon’s Edge completed the trifecta and returned $8.70 for his third-place finish. The winner earned $300,000 for the win.
It was Contreras’ second Queen’s Plate winning ride, finishing first in 2011 aboard Pender Harbour. It was doubtful over the weekend whether Contreras would even ride in the race after a bad spill at Woodbine on Sunday, where he suffered head and back injuries.
Contreras was not to be denied, however, telling his doctors that he was okay to ride on Tuesday evening. “I hit my head pretty hard and when I hit the ground it affected my lower back. I was putting ice on it every four-five hours,” said Contreras.
He culminated a big night at Fort Erie, after winning the $75,000 Rainbow Connection on the undercard proving he was showing no signs of wear and tear. He admitted after the Prince of Wales, that his horse did most of the work.
“Early in the race I got an opportunity to sit behind horses. I was so nice and relaxed on the backstretch, I opened up a little to the outside and he started running,” said Contreras. “I was in hand the whole way, and I had so much horse on my hands. I was looking back to see where everybody was and they were all way, way back.”
Trainer Josie Carroll, who has two career Queen’s Plates on her resume, claimed her first Prince of Wales win. She became the third female to train a Wales winner, a feat last achieved by Catherine Day Phillips in 2004.
It was her horse’s first race on the dirt, but, Carroll was convinced after his workout on July 19 at the Fort that he could handle the dirt. “My horse loved it when he worked over it,” said Carroll.
She was complimentary of Contreras’ judgment when Gizmo decided to change the game plan. “It really wasn’t the plan, we planned to sit close and be in position to make a move,” said Carroll. “He was in position and the horse took him there. When Luis swung him out he wanted to go and he let the horse run his race instead of choking the run out of him,” she said.
Carroll said she would see how Amis Gizmo comes out of the race before committing to the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Breeder’s Stakes on Aug. 21. The 1 1/2-mile race is on the Woodbine turf course, another surface he has yet to run over.
The Mark Casse-trained Leavem in Malibu ran second, but the result was never in doubt.
For Queen’s Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges, an attempt at the Canadian Triple Crown fell by the wayside for the 13th straight year. Finishing 20 lengths behind Amis Gizmo, jockey Julien Leparoux made no excuses for the son of Gio Ponti.
“When I came to the first turn I was wide, so I just tucked back and dropped in very quick. I protected my position around the first turn,” said Leparoux. “On the backside I was right behind the winner, but early on I just couldn’t keep up,” he said.
A rare appearance by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, his first-ever to Fort Erie, to ride Battery made for a long ride back to Saratoga. After the race he was very succinct about his horse’s effort. “No horse. It was a long trip. He never helped me in any part of the race, he didn’t want any part of it,” said Velazquez.
It was a big win for Contreras who has been near the top of the Woodbine jockey standing for the last few years. On an evening where he had a chance to show his riding skills against some of the top jockeys in the world in Johnny V and Leparoux, he showed why he is in such high demand in Toronto.
Leaning over and whispering to Contreras a question about what it meant to him to beat a Hall of Fame jockey like Johnny V in the crowded press room, brought about a sly smile the size of the Peace Bridge.
“Oh, he was in the race?” he replied.
A beautiful ride came with a beautiful response.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.