TORONTO – You could see the relief on trainer Mark Casse’s face late Sunday afternoon before a crowded press box at Woodbine Racetrack. The top Canadian conditioner in six of the last eight years is finally bringing home the Queen’s Plate.
Before a big crowd at the windy Woodbine oval, the filly Lexie Lou made a big move on the far turn and motored home to win the 155th edition of the $1 million Queen’s Plate. The victory in the most continuously run race in North America is restricted to 3-year-olds foaled in Canada and is that country’s version of the Kentucky Derby. The second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes, will be run at Fort Erie on July 29.
Lexie Lou, the Woodbine Oaks winner, held off a game Ami’s Holiday, who tried to slip by on the inside at the wire, by 1½ lengths to win the 1¼-mile race in 2:03.94. The field of 15 had to fight a prevailing headwind that faced them down the long Woodbine homestretch. Lexie Lou returned to her backers $8.20 to win, $4.50 to place and $3.30 to show. Ami’s Holiday returned $9.70 to place and $5.80 to show and Asserting Bear paid $6 for his third-place finish.
Lexie Lou became the 35th filly to win the Plate since 1860, and the sixth to win both the Oaks and the Queen’s Plate. Her bold move on the far turn elicited a huge roar from the packed Woodbine grandstand, one not heard around these parts since Wando captured the 2003 Canadian Triple Crown.
Casse was visibly emotional after winning the race that, other than the Kentucky Derby, he has craved the most after 20 attempts. “I’ve been following the Queen’s Plate since I was a little boy, so to finally win it was great,” Casse said. “I thought we’d win it sooner or later and I knew I wasn’t going to give up.”
His jockey, Patrick Husbands, had a clue last week that he would be sitting in the winner’s circle trackside with Casse after Lexie Lou’s workout a week ago Saturday. “I went into this race very confident with this filly, I breezed her on Saturday and when I pulled her up I started to cry because I can’t believe I have another Queen’s Plate winner. I took her back to the barn and I told the assistant, ‘Can you tell Mark I don’t think they will beat this filly,’ ” said Husbands, who won the 2003 Plate aboard Wando, the last Canadian Triple Crown winner.
As one of Casse’s main go-to riders, Husbands took pride in securing the first plate win for him. “It was a thrill. I’m so happy for Mark,” Husbands said. “He has tried so hard to win the Queen’s Plate. I’m happy and proud to ride and win with his horse.”
Casse was concerned last week that the filly’s effort in the Woodbine Oaks might have been “too spectacular.” However, he knew if she brought her “A” game she had a big shot. The fact that she was still gaining weight was a good sign for Casse.
“Most horses go one way and they end up losing weight, most horses that ran the way she did in the Oaks would go backwards, but not her,” said Casse.
Ami’s Holiday, who was saddled with the far outside post, started slow but made a big run, finding an opening on the inside to close on the winner and almost caught the filly in deep stretch. Trainer Josie Carroll, who in 2011 trained Inglorious, the last filly to win the Plate, was happy with her horse’s efforts.
“I thought he ran a tremendous race, the filly it was her day, but I’m very pleased what my horse did,” Carroll said. “We’ll see how he comes out of this and we’ll take her on again.”
Jockey Luis Contreras saw an opening at the rail and almost stole the race from Casse and the filly with Ami’s Holiday. “My horse had a perfect trip, I just stayed behind Lexie Lou and I was feeling confident through the stretch and she got me in the end. The inside was wide open and I went through and I almost got her,” said Contreras who was aboard Inglorious in 2011.
As for the heavy post-time favorite, the race was over the moment the gate opened for We Miss Artie. Eclipse-winning jockey Javier Castellano, who flew in to ride the colt for trainer Todd Pletcher, was disappointed in his horse’s start.
“We had a poor start at the gate. My horse was in the right position to go, but unfortunately he broke straight in the air, and I lost the entire race as soon as they opened the gate,” Castellano said. “It was hard to make up ground, as the track played to speed all day long and it was hard to catch the other horses.”
The $500,000 Prince of Wales in recent years hasn’t had the privilege of hosting the Plate winner due to the fact that the race is run on dirt at Fort Erie as opposed to the Polytrack at Woodbine.
Casse was noncommittal about heading to the border oval with the daughter of Sligo Bay, but hinted that he may have bigger plans than heading to Fort Erie after two big races in the last three weeks.
“A third race in a short time, and of course on a surface that she’s never been over, you know we’ll see,” Casse said. “I honestly feel that this filly probably can run pretty well with any 3-year-old filly in North America, with the exception of Untapable. I wouldn’t want to mess with her right now.”
Fort Erie’s loss may be one of the major tracks’ gains, as Casse also suggested he may run Lexie Lou out on the West Coast, possibly at Del Mar, where he will have a string of horses for the summer meet. Her owner, Gary Barber, the CEO of MGM Entertainment, is also based on the West Coast and that could be a factor in the filly’s travel plans. For now, Casse will bask in the glow of his first Queen’s Plate triumph before plotting out Lexie Lou’s next move.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.