TORONTO – Given the choice of three Queen’s Plate starters, jockey Rafael Hernandez is hoping Channel Maker brings home his second career win in Canada’s most famous race.
The Puerto Rican native rode Plate Trial winner Guy Caballero and impressive maiden winner Aurora Way to victories in their respective last starts. He’s hoping the give U.S. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first Plate victory with his first starter ever in this race.
Channel Maker (4-1) finished second in the Grade 3 Marine Stakes against open company to Souper Tapit by two lengths. By English Channel, he shares the sire of 2012 Queen’s Plate winner Strait of Dover.
Hernandez declared that the decision wasn’t easy at Wednesday’s Plate draw. “The choice was between my agent and me,” said Hernandez. “I think Channel Maker handled the track well last time. It was tough, I had three horses to pick from and every one has a shot to win the race, hopefully I picked the best one,” he said.
The 158th edition of the Queen’s Plate has attracted 13 starters, including two fillies for the $1 million purse at Woodbine Racetrack in suburban Toronto. Post time for the Plate is 5:36 p.m. EDT and will be Race 10 on Sunday afternoon.
Channel Maker’s connections drew the rail for Sunday and Hernandez hopes that history repeats itself. “I like the one hole. That’s the same hole I won from in 2015 with Shaman Ghost. I think that’s a good omen, we’re going to save a lot of ground.” said Hernandez.
Mott, aiming for his first Plate victory has had past success on synthetic tracks in the States, would love to add this race to his Hall of Fame collection of victories. The Plate is run over a synthetic Tapeta surface that was installed last year at Woodbine.
Over the past six years, fillies have won the Queen’s Plate twice and this year two fillies will try the boys in the longest continuously run race in North America. Holy Helena (3-1), the Woodbine Oaks winner, is the morning line favorite and will also start from the No. 3 post.
Jockey Luis Contreras will be aboard the filly for Stronach Stables and U.S.-based trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Contreras, who rode the filly Inglorious to victory in the 2011 Plate, is not feeling any pressure in riding the likely post time favorite.
“I don’t feel any pressure; I love to ride this filly. The pressure is more on the connections. With all the speed on the outside, I like our position,” said Contreras.
Winning this particular race on a filly in the past is also a boost. “That gives me extra confidence, and I know this filly can do it too,” said Contreras.
Holy Helena finished the Oaks almost two seconds faster than the boys did in the Plate trial on the same afternoon of June 17 and she looks like she could keep going.
Stronach racing manager Mike Doyle doesn’t seem to think the distance will be issue for the daughter of Ghostzapper, who won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic. “I can’t see the distance (1 1/4-miles) being a problem,” said Doyle. “It’s right up her alley. She’s out of a really nice mare and she keeps improving every time out.”
Her breeding is right in line with past Plate winners. Ghostzapper sired 2014 winner Shaman Ghost and her dam Holy Grace is a daughter of the multiple 10-furlong winner Holy Bull.
The horse getting the most backstretch buzz is the maiden winner Aurora Way (6-1), who will be making his second lifetime start in the Queen’s Plate. His sire Giant’s Causeway, produced 2007 Plate winner Mike Fox, who won the Plate coming out of an allowance win.
He broke his maiden on June 10 winning by four lengths over a quality field for Chiefswood Stable. Trainer Stuart Simon had enough confidence to start Aurora Way in the big dance after one race.
“He’s got a lot of talent, let’s hope it carries him,” said Stuart. “We’ve had the Plate in mind for so long. In a perfect world we would have liked to have had a couple more races, but we’re kind of playing the cards we were dealt.”
His race was visually impressive and I think he will be a must use in the exotics underneath, although I question if a horse as lightly raced can win going the classic distance in just his second start. Last year’s winning rider Julien Leparoux ships in and will be in the irons on the lightly raced colt.
Trainer Catherine Day Phillips will enter two horses in the Plate seeking her first Plate win. She finished second twice in 2004 and 2009 and Plate Trail winner Guy Caballero looks to give her the best chance on Sunday. She’ll also try to become the second female trainer to win the Queen’s Plate. She’ll also saddle a second horse in the race in Watch Me Strut.
The Plate winner has come out of the local prep six times over the past 10 years. The horse named after the president of the fictional Second City Television Network should be a factor in the Gallop for the Guineas.
While Day Phillips was disappointed that Hernandez spurned the Plate Trial winner, but she picked up last year’s Eclipse Award finalist Jose Ortiz for the mount aboard the son of Quality Road.
Day Phillips spoke to Ortiz’ agent and asked him if there was a lucky number if they were down to a coin toss on the post position. “He said, well we won the Belmont from the two hole, so we ended up selecting the two hole for the Plate,” she said. “We knew we were going to have to bring an American rider, so we picked Jose.”
A Queen’s Plate win would be a crowning achievement in her career and after five tries she’s hoping that this is the year. “I keep looking at that trophy and saying I want that trophy. I’d really love to win the Queen’s Plate,” said Day Phillips.
The race should be very competitive which includes additional American flavor with Chad Brown saddling his first Plate entry in Inflexibility. The owners and rider, Eclipse Award winning rider Javier Castellano, teamed up to win the Preakness with Cloud Computing. The connections will look to pull off an American-Canadian classic double with the filly.
Post Time Outlook: 1 –Channel Maker; 2 –Holy Helena; 3 –Aurora Way; and 4 – Guy Caballero
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.