ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Given a 16-horse Queen’s Plate field, mining for longshots to kick off the Canadian Triple Crown is not a bad place to go.
Sure, three solid horses are on top of the morning line in Telekinesis (5-2) and the two fillies, Wonder Gadot (3-1) and Dixie Moon (4-1). But this year feels like chaos may rule supreme in Saturday’s $1 million Queen’s Plate to be run over 1 ¼-miles on the Woodbine Tapeta.
Post time for the 159th running of the Queen’s Plate is 5:36 p.m. The second leg of Canada's Triple Crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, is scheduled at nearby Fort Erie Race Track on July 24.
Dixie Moon, a daughter of Curlin, could continue the winning ways of fillies who have won three of the last seven Plates and give trainer Catherine Day Phillips her first training win in Woodbine’s biggest race. I’ll back her on top out of the top three, but finding the right longshots to weave into the top four horses is where I’ll spend my time.
With a wide array of younger, inexperienced horses in a large field, it is more likely than not that one or two of the favorites will be compromised a la the Kentucky Derby at the start. It is the biggest non-Kentucky Derby field to compete in a race in North America since 2011.
The first stop on the longshot journey is at Nick Nowosenko’s barn, who will send out the 3-year-old son of Giant Gizmo named Cooler Mike (30-1). The horse was named after Nick’s father, Mike, who has been around the track for over 50 years.
“He’s always brought a cooler for the staff after the races,” said the younger Nowosenko. “It used to be for a win only, then it ran second, then it was third. Now it’s win, lose or draw, the cooler’s always open. The kids all look forward to it back there. He’s pretty famous on the backside.”
Cooler Mike has won three of his eight career races at Woodbine and has hit the board in five of his seven races on the Tapeta track. His best speed figure is just slightly behind the three favorites, yet at 30-1 on the morning line, he should prove to be value should he crack the top three.
He’s likely to be sent early from post No. 2 in the inside auxiliary gate, which will hold only the two inside horses. That should favor him in the early going.
“He likes to be up near the front, he loves the rail,” Nowosenko said. “I figured that instead of sending him out of the 14 or 15 hole, we better just let him break and see what happens and get to the rail. Hopefully they all don’t bury him inside. There’s going to be about 10 feet to the rail and those other horses will be pretty wide on the track.”
The other longshot that intrigues me is trained by two-time Plate winner Nick Gonzalez. He will send Silent Poet (30-1) postward looking for another upset winner in the Gallop for the Guineas. Silent Poet is lightly raced and will be trying two turns for the first time, but has impressed while sprinting in his three career starts, with consecutive wins after a solid second-place finish in his debut against open company.
“I’ve had so many young horses over the years, when you start training two-year-olds, I’m just old enough to know,” Gonzalez said. “I knew back last year that we had something special here.”
Malcolm Pierce, who trained the winner in Silent Poet’s debut, sought out Gonzalez the next morning to tell him how much he liked his own horse and that Nick’s impressed him in the race. Pierce’s horse went on to win his next race at Tampa Bay Downs.
The big question surrounding Silent Poet, and most every horse in the race, is the classic mile-and-a-quarter distance. Gonzalez seemed unfazed when asked about it.
“Sure, that’s the question mark,” said Gonzalez. “We’ve done a lot of training with him and he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s got that Ghostzapper on the dam side that gives you a comfortable feeling. He’s galloped out well in all three of his starts, so he’s got the stamina.”
Gonzalez, a longtime conditioner and proponent at Fort Erie, has the same look as he had four years ago when Midnight Aria upset the Plate field at 15-1, when talking about the son of Silent Name. He knows from experience, it only takes everything to work out right to come out on top.
“The bottom line is June 29th and July the 1st don’t matter, it’s June 30, you just have to be right that day,” said Gonzalez. “I wouldn’t want to have the pressure like Mark (Casse) to have two favorites in the race. I just want to be under the radar, maintain your composure, go in there quietly confident and just hope you get a good trip. It’s a big field, that’s going to be an important thing.”
Casse squarely has the pressure on him with the top two choices in morning line favorite and Plate Trial winner Telekinesis and Kentucky Oaks runner-up Wonder Gadot. He finally got off the schneid three years ago with Lexie Lou, but still posts a lifetime 1-for-20 record in the race.
A win by Telekinesis would not be shocking. He’s a classy colt by Ghostzapper out of a Street Cry mare, but it’s hard to back a 5-2 favorite in a 16-horse field. I’ll keep him in the mix as his talent and the competition he’s faced rivals any horse in the race.
Dixie Moon is due for a breakout win to vault her career to the next level and is a solid pick at 4-1. She has the Curlin pedigree and there is a solid track record of fillies making the jump from the Oaks.
Post Time Outlook: 1 –Dixie Moon; 2 –Cooler Mike; 3 –Telekinesis; and 4 – Silent Poet
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.