Peter Fornatale Blog

The Queen's Plate - what is essentially Canada's Derby - is the focus of Peter Fornatale's attention in North America on Saturday evening.

  • Saturday 12 September
  • Blog
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The Queen’s Plate is essentially the Canadian Derby – a $1 million, 10-furlong test for three-year-olds bred in Ontario held over Woodbine’s synthetic surface. Dating back to 1860, it’s the longest continually running stakes race in North America, and some of its winners include important horses like With Approval, Izvestia, Dance Smartly and Awesome Again.  

Who will win this year’s running? Let’s have a look at the field from the rail out.  

#1 SWEEPIN HARD comes here with just a maiden optional claiming win on his resume, and that got a low time figure and came courtesy of a good setup. An on-the-board finish would represent quite a surprise.  

#2 MERVEILLEUX is an interesting item. Fillies have a fantastic record in the Plate and she’s one of the two signed on this year. Last out, she was third to impressive winner Curlin’s Voyage in The Woodbine Oaks, a race that came back fast on the clock. Both fillies benefited from the torrid pace that was set that day. Both also had interrupted runs through that day. Was Merveilleux’s trip three lengths worse than the winner. I don’t think so, not when you consider that Curlin’s Joy moved earlier into the fast pace.  

This one galloped out well and should go well again in this spot – recent works suggest she may have even moved forward. An each-way chance that might be worth taking if double-digit odds are on offer and the favorites are overbet.  

#3 BELICHICK was talked about as an ante-post favorite for this race before he ever stepped on a racecourse in the afternoon. He’s impeccably bred for 10 furlongs on the synth (Lemon Drop Kid out of a Montjeu mare) and cost $300,000. The bad news, such as it is, is that he’s still a maiden, and he hasn’t run anywhere near fast enough on paper to threaten these.  

A win feels like a stretch but this is a horse based on his promise and running style that I could see running up into a minor placing. He has reportedly worked very well since the last but he’s always been a good work horse. Another to consider for each-way players at 30-1 plus and or for use underneath in USA-style exotics.  

#4 TRUEBELIEVE started his career in a maiden claimer and has been well handled by a couple of today’s rivals. On pace figures, he could be among the early leaders but that approach appeared to backfire on him the last day. I’m not seeing enough on the paper or the tape to get me excited about his chances. The name says it all: for true believers only.  

#5 HOLYFIELD probably has the best naming story of any horse in this year’s Plate. When he arrived at the barn with a chunk of his ear missing from an incident at the farm, connections harkened back to that infamous 1997 fight night in Las Vegas and came up with this handle. Holyfield’s last race was better, even if it was only a maiden. He’s a late-developing colt with promise.  

He’s still got plenty to find with the best of these but I won’t be shocked if he can at least deliver a blow, but I wouldn’t count on it being a knockout punch.  

#6 HALO AGAIN is a talented USA invader for the always dangerous Steve Asmussen barn. He shipped up for the Plate Trial and was beaten by a still very green Clayton that day. It was not a race that made a particularly good impression visually or on the clock, and even though this one had a small issue at the start, I think he was more the bumper than bumpee, and I don’t see him improving past the winner. My gut is that the 10 furlongs will stretch this runner.  

#7 GLORIOUS TRIBUTE was the other horse in the argy bargy at the gate with Halo Again the last day, and while he may have gotten the worst of that exchange, he was 60-1 and did little running thereafter. Optimists might point out that he was beaten less than four and will be a tremendous multiple of the winner’s price here but it’s simply not enough for me.  

#8 OLLIEMYBOY is another big longshot and while I certainly can’t blame connections for taking a shot, he’s in awfully tough. This is his first time against winners and he’s exiting a slow maiden win where he had a great setup. An on-the-board finish would surprise me.  

#9 DOTTED LINE was the pace setter in the Plate Trial, a race that didn’t exactly get my blood pumping with excitement. On balance, I thought his previous race was more impressive, which puts him on a declining pattern heading to this one. That’s going to be tough to overcome and at single-digit odds he’d be an easy pass for me in this spot.  

#10 CURLIN'S VOYAGE may end up going off the favorite in this spot and with good reason. As noted, she ran a fast race in the Oaks the last day and I thought she had a tricky trip. She made one move early into the fast pace, had to idle, and then ran on again to victory. It’s a tough race to evaluate all in all but I was impressed by how fast she ran in the middle section.  

She’s a likely winner but doesn’t appear to me to offer much value given that I think the fast figure was at least in part the product of a good setup.  

#11 F F ROCKET is a recent maiden winner at Presque Isle with remarkably similar breeding to his rival just inside (both Curlins out of Stormy Atlantic mares). On form and figures, there is simply too much to find for me.  

#12 CLAYTON is your morning line favorite. His last race, a win in the Plate Trial, did not compare favorably to the Oaks visually or on the clock. That said, I feel like of all the runners in the field, he still might have the most room to improve. He raced greenly last time, late to switch his lead and carrying his head at an angle. 

According to Woodbine clocker Ernie Perri on my Queen’s Plate special podcast, he has trained much more professionally since. If a horse with these form and figures steps up again, I truly believe the others may be running for second. Odds of 2-1 feel right, so anything longer than that would be value. Let’s see what we get on the day but Clayton is my pick for now and the most likely winner.  

#13 MIGHTY HEART isn’t a crazy idea, especially as one to run in the lower rungs of the number. His last race was better than it looked, in that he moved early and wide into the teeth of a fast pace in a race that fell apart late. He has a few of the other longshots on the form book. The distance is a question mark to be sure but this is a progressive type I can’t rule out as an each-way possibility, especially as the price goes up.  

#14 TECUMSEH'S WAR has a very similar look to Mighty Heart. The downside is that he’s a bit more exposed and will be a shorter price. But he attended the fast pace last time and stayed on for a better placing (fans of Mighty Heart will point out that he ran about 50 feet farther due to ground loss).  

Another negative for both the outside runners is that seven of those rivals have come back to run and none have cracked the exacta. In the end, I’ll probably let them beat me, especially given the expected wide trips.  

VERDICT: I like CLAYTON in this spot and I like that we have reliable information about how well he has trained since the last race. Another key point is he should get a perfect trip – he’s got the tactical speed to get position and has shown the ability to pass horses, even though in the past he was doing it on raw talent as opposed to his seeming newfound professionalism.  

I also may take a little each-way shot with Belichick if he’s 50-1 or so. I love this pedigree and could see him figuring things out and running on for a placing.

Peter Fornatale Blog
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