Woodbine Oaks winner Holy Helena, already the projected favorite for Sunday’s C$1 million Queen’s Plate, served notice of her readiness to tackle the boys with a strong Monday work.
With jockey Luis Contreras aboard, the Jimmy Jerkens filly breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80, tying for the fastest of six moves at the distance on Woodbine’s Tapeta. Track clockers recorded her initial fractions of :25 and :37, and her six-furlong gallop-out in 1:15.40.
But it was the way she did it, just cruising around well within herself and relentless on the gallop-out, that took the eye.
Kris Platts (@WoodbineTVProd) tweeted the informative video:
— Kris Platts (@WoodbineTVProd) June 26, 2017
“She went very well,” said trainer and Stronach Stables’ racing manager Mike Doyle, who is hosting Holy Helena in his Woodbine barn.
“Luis and I both spoke to Jimmy (Jerkens); he was very pleased. She cooled out really nice; we’re all good.”
According to the Woodbine notes, Holy Helena would be the sixth (later corrected to seventh) filly to turn the Oaks/Queen’s Plate double.
“Jimmy’s done a beautiful job with her,” Doyle said. “She’s had three strong races and she’s really got a great attitude about her.
“She ran really well first time out (when second in an April 15 Aqueduct sprint maiden). And to come back the second time and win with a really nice performance (at Belmont), Jimmy was very pleased. All of us were very happy with it.”
The 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks marked her stakes and two-turn debut. Doyle is confident that the Ghostzapper half-sister to Grade 2-winning sprinter Holy Boss can handle the 1 1/4 miles of the Queen’s Plate.
“I can’t see the distance being a problem. It’s right up her alley. She’s out of a really nice mare and she keeps improving every time out.”
One other filly is expected in the Canadian classic, the Chad Brown-trained Inflexibility, who was a distant third to Holy Helena in the Woodbine Oaks. Brown hopes that the Belmont turf maiden winner will show more in this second attempt on the Tapeta. She also picks up Javier Castellano this time.
“I think she handled it OK,” Brown said of Inflexibility’s first feel of the unfamiliar surface. “I’m optimistic that her second run over it will be better. She’s never had the opportunity to breeze on it, only gallop a couple days over it. So, I’m hopeful that having the experience of one race over it, that she’ll handle it better in her next start.”
By Scat Daddy, Inflexibility counts as her second dam a full sister to Hall of Famer Ashado.
Trainer Mark Casse is double-handed with Canadian champion King and His Court and State of Honor, the respective second and third in the June 11 Plate Trial to Guy Caballero.
State of Honor was making his first start back from a 19th in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
“He’s coming into this better than he went into the Plate Trial,” Casse said. “He missed a little time after the Derby. He’s trained into this much better. It’s a question of how far he will go. He’s going to be up on the lead. We’ve found that’s the only way to do it, so we’ll see how far he can go.”
State of Honor, who had been second to stablemate King and His Court in last November’s Coronation Futurity, excelled on dirt this winter to place in the Florida Derby (G1), Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and Sam F. Davis (G3).
In contrast, King and His Court, who took home a Sovereign Award as champion two-year-old male, didn’t replicate his Woodbine form south of the border this winter. Last when trying dirt in the Sam F. Davis, he was also well beaten in the Spiral (G3) on Turfway’s Polytrack. The Court Vision gelding was much happier back at Woodbine, regrouping to capture the Wando S. over Tiz a Slam and Megagray.
Casse is hopeful that King and His Court will run back to his Wando effort, not his slightly subpar second in the Plate Trial last out.
“I thought his race in the Wando was good,” his trainer said. “I don’t think you saw the real King and His Court in the Plate Trial. At no point in time, to me, did he look happy. I thought (jockey) Gary (Boulanger) was always having to ride him to be where he was. I was surprised he ran as well as he did. He seems to be much happier. Hopefully, there is going to be some speed in there.”
Guy Caballero was scoring his first stakes victory in the Trial as a 20-1 longshot. Fifth in the Coronation Futurity, the Catherine Day Phillips trainee concluded his juvenile season with a third, again to King and His Court, in the Display. Guy Caballero will be joined by stablemate Watch Me Strut, a recent allowance winner who will make his stakes debut in the Queen’s Plate.
Tiz a Slam hasn’t built upon his early status as the winter book favorite, but may be nearing his peak for Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, in pursuit of a record ninth Queen’s Plate. Last year’s Cup and Saucer hero on the Woodbine turf, Tiz a Slam was runner-up in the Wando and fourth in the Plate Trial. Chiefswood Stable’s homebred son of Tiznow descends from the family of the great Salsabil.
“He is doing very well,” Attfield said. “I thought his race in the Trial was commendable from where I was going into it. So I’m quite happy with my situation right now.”
Another Chiefswood blueblood in the Queen’s Plate, Aurora Way, takes a giant class hike off a June 10 career debut victory. The Stuart Simon pupil is by Giant’s Causeway and out of multiple Grade 3 winner Aurora Lights, herself a three-quarter sister to Master Command from an all-star female line.
“I know he’s a pretty talented horse,” Simon commented. “We’ve had the Plate in mind for so long. In a perfect world we would have liked him to have had a couple more races, but we’re kind of playing the cards we were dealt.”
In addition to the top four from the Plate Trial, three are exiting the other local prep, the May 28 Marine (G3). While the handy winner Souper Tapit is ineligible as a Florida-bred, the respective second through fourth – Channel Maker, Malibu Secret, and Megagray – all renew rivalry.
Channel Maker, who covered a half-mile in :49.30 Monday over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track, invades for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Initially trained by Danny Vella, the English Channel gelding had raced exclusively on turf prior to the Marine. He scored in the Vandal, placed third in the Summer (G2), and wound up seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). After switching to Mott, Channel Maker ran well in a pair of Keeneland allowances that set him up for the Marine, and he looks to take another step forward.
Malibu Secret, representing famed Sam-Son Farm, is by Malibu Moon and out of a Dynaformer half-sister to Canadian champion Irish Mission. With only three starts under his belt, the well-bred colt has plenty of upside. Trainer Malcolm Pierce unveiled him in the Vandal, where he finished second to Channel Maker. Not seen again until April 28, Malibu Secret broke his maiden on the Tapeta but had a little trouble when third in the Marine.
Rounding out the likely field is Spirit of Caledon from the Pat Parente barn. Third to Watch Me Strut in his latest, the son of 2007 Queen’s Plate hero Mike Fox is being supplemented for C$25,000.
The draw for the 158th “Gallop for the Guineas” – North America’s oldest continuously held race – will take place Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. (EDT).