TORONTO – Holy Helena added another chapter to the filly dominance of the Queen’s Plate late Sunday afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack.
The Woodbine Oaks winner surged to the lead around the far turn and never looked back on her way to a three-and-a-half length victory in the 158th Queen’s Plate. The 2-1 post-time favorite became the third filly in the last seven years to win Canada’s most famous race restricted to Ontario-bred 3-year-olds.
After an overcast early afternoon in suburban Toronto, the sun came beaming through late in the day and shined upon the filly who claimed the $600,000 first-place money. It was apropos as the meaning of Helena is “bright, shining light,” a perfect fit for the filly.
The winner completed the mile-and-a-quarter trek in 2:02.87 and returned $6.30 to her backers for the win, $4.10 to place and $3.10 to show. A late closing Tiz a Slam returned $7.20 to place and $5.10 to show for trainer Roger Attfield. The second filly in the race, Inflexibility, paid $4.90 for her third-place finish.
It was Stronach Stables’ fourth win in the Plate. Holy Helena was the second horse by Ghostzapper to win the most continuously run race in North America, following up on Shaman Ghost’s win in 2015. The other two previous Plate winners for Stronach were Awesome Again (1997) and Basqueian (1994).
Owner Frank Stronach of Stronach Stables was quick to confirm that the daughter of Ghostzapper would not run back in the middle jewel of the Canadian Crown and take on the 1 3/16-mile trek around Fort Erie’s dirt track on July 25.
Stronach cited the quick turnaround in three weeks to be a concern and hinted at bigger things could be in her future. “Normally I don’t like to fun fillies that quick off a big race and that’s three weeks away. She’ll get a little break,” said Stronach.
Stronach responded to The News with the possibility of Holy Helena running back in the Alabama Stakes at historic Saratoga against American-based fillies. “We might consider the Alabama,” said Stronach. “It’s about seven-eight weeks away. I think many times Canadian-bred horses have done well in the States.”
In 2011, Inglorious tried the Alabama route after winning the Plate, but finished a disappointing sixth when she didn’t take to the dirt. Luis Contreras was aboard Inglorious that day and if they try again, he’ll have that experience to call upon if a trip to the Spa is on tap.
Contreras, who was second in last year’s Plate, added a second Queen’s Plate to his resume, enjoyed an early stalking trip behind pace-setters State of Honor and Megagray. “She did it so easy. I had plenty of horse left at the end, she was just continuing to run,” said Contreras.
“At the three-eighths pole, I had so much horse I was so confident, I looked to my inside and outside and I didn’t see anyone coming really,” said Contreras. “I had the whole time to make my move at the quarter pole; I got to the outside and asked her to go.”
Contreras didn’t shy away from taking another shot at graded company in the Alabama. “If he (Stronach) wants to, I want to,” said Contreras. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed to do it again.”
Mike Doyle, racing manager for Stronach Stables, represented trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who watched the race from New York. “She’s exceptionally laid back. I think she could be very good. What she did out there today, with so much ease was incredible,” said Doyle. “I’d say she could be very special.”
Attfield was denied a record-breaking ninth training win in the Plate and remains tied with Harry Giddings, Jr. with eight wins. It was the third time that Attfield finished second in the Plate. His last win in the race was in 2008 with Not Bourbon.
The son of Tiznow ran valiantly to finish second, but just didn’t have enough to overcome the filly’s talent. Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva was pleased with the second-place finish, but lauded the winner’s effort immediately after the race.
“It was really hard to catch that horse. She was running very game and my horse was kicking pretty good, but at that point it was very difficult to win the race,” said the Woodbine-based jockey. “I passed a lot of horses, but I didn’t pass that one,” said da Silva.
Javier Castellano shipped in to ride the other filly, Inflexibility, for trainer Chad Brown and didn’t disappoint with a third-place finish aboard the daughter of Scat Daddy. She had finished third in the Oaks behind Holy Helena and she once again took the show money.
Castellano lamented the lack of pace for his filly that has a late closing running style after making up five spots in the final three-quarters of a mile. “I wish there was a little more pace in the race to set it up,” said Castellano. “She fought past the horses despite the slow pace and she still finished really strong.”
So we’ll head across the Peace Bridge in three weeks for the Prince of Wales and for the first time since 2014, the Plate winner will skip the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
The Saratoga watch on Holy Helena is now on, and will make for intriguing Alabama Stakes should she come out of the Plate in good condition.
It was only fitting that the day was concluded with a performance from Buffalo-based rockers, the Goo Goo Dolls.
For Canadian racing, Queens Plate 158 was certainly one of its “better days.”
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.