FORT ERIE – Wonder Gadot continued to dominate Ontario-bred competition through the first two legs of Canada’s Triple Crown at Fort Erie Race Track on Tuesday evening.
What’s up next will be the real test.
After enduring a massive downpour Tuesday evening an hour before the big race, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro sloshed her way to the middle jewel going gate-to-wire to capture the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes.
She is the first horse to capture the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown since Wando won all three in 2003.
The 2-5 favorite almost didn’t even make it into the gate.
Twenty minutes before the race, trainer Mark Casse was thinking about scratching the filly named after Gal Gadot of Wonder Woman fame, after watching the heavens open up and turn a fast track into a mudfest.
After consulting with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, that decision was quashed. “I was very concerned, she has never run on this type of track and you never know,” said Casse. “Honestly, I was seriously thinking about scratching her.”
“Warming up, Johnny said she was on her toes and the more he looked at the track, he said he didn’t want that all that (mud) thrown back at him so he said I’m going to go for it,” said Casse. “I don’t give Johnny instructions, he’s won a lot more races than I have,” said Casse.
He described Velazquez telling the conditioner what every horse in the race was going to do on the flight in from Saratoga for the race.
Velazquez added another big race to his Hall of Fame resume in his second career race at the Fort. His filly was worth the flight into Buffalo on Saratoga’s dark day, usually a day off for the veteran rider.
“I'm very proud of her. It was a different surface. A different (running) style today and she responded to what I wanted her to do,” said Velazquez. “I was warming her up and the more I looked at the track, I couldn't have her behind horses today. I wanted to keep her face clean. She was comfortable up front and it worked out well.”
Wonder Gadot will likely pass on the Breeders’ Stakes and a shot at becoming Canada’s 13th Triple Crown winner for a Grade 1 race in the States. Trainer Mark Casse planned all along to use this race as a prep for the Alabama, one of America’s most prestigious races for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga Race Course. A tactic neither trainer of two former Queen’s Plate winning fillies used before getting thumped in Saratoga.
“There’s a possibility, about the Breeders’ (and a Triple Crown try), it’s just very difficult because it kind of messes up our plans,” said Casse. Those plans still include trying to take a shot at the 3-year-old filly division and a win in the Alabama at Saratoga and a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff are her only chances to vault ahead of current division leader Monomoy Girl.
Monomoy Girl is likely headed to the $1 million Cotillion at Parx in September, which leaves the Grade 1 Alabama for the taking at a mile-and-a-quarter, a distance she conquered in the Plate.
“We still, and it’s a long shot, want a shot to be champion 3-year-old in North America,” said Casse. “By going a mile-and-a-half on the grass, it doesn’t really fit into what we want to do,” said Casse.
Wando last captured the three classic Canadian races 15 years ago and no horse has come close to joining the dozen horses, including two fillies that have previously donned the crown. It’s unfortunate for die-hard Canadian fans, but Casse knows that the road with a Grade 1 at Saratoga and a win in the Breeders’ Cup would far outshadow the Canadian Triple Crown.
It was the fourth Prince of Wales training win for Casse, who captured his second Queen’s Plate with the filly last month at Woodbine in suburban Toronto.
The filly put away second-place finisher Aheadbyacentury at the top of the stretch winning by a 5 3/4-length margin at the historic border oval before the rain-soaked crowd. The winner is owned by Gary Barber and collected $240,000 for the win. She increased her career earnings to $1,439,053 in her thirteenth start.
The winner finished the trek in 1:58.71 to win the middle jewel in impressive fashion. She returned $2.80 to win to her backers and $2.10 to place. Second-place finisher Aheadbyacentury paid $2.70 to place. There was no show betting on the Prince of Wales.
Cooler Mike finished third over 13 lengths behind the filly and completed the same exact trifecta as the Queen’s Plate.
Halfway through the race, Aheadbyacentury was within two lengths of the front-running Wonder Gadot. Jockey Luis Contreras, who has won this race three times and was seeking a record third straight, was ready to challenge the filly.
“I saved as much ground as I wanted and he moved pretty well into the second turn,” said Contreras. “Turning for home, Johnny (Velazquez) looked back and just opened up. He had too much. My horse handled the track really well and I’m pretty happy with him,” said Contreras.
Casse, a multiple Sovereign Award winning trainer in Canada, has a lot of confidence in his filly. He isn’t afraid of Monomoy Girl, and the Kentucky Oaks rematch where they finished 1-2 won’t occur until November at the scene of the crime at Churchill Downs.
“We almost got her once,” said Casse. “I have the utmost respect for Monomoy Girl and she’ll be tough. But if anyone can beat her, it’s us. We’re not giving up.”