Queen’s Plate Girl Power
The Queen’s Plate, the most important race for Canadian three year old colts and fillies, is the oldest continuously run stakes race on the North American continent. The event is steeped with traditions and folklore. From the awarding of fifty royal sovereigns , which dates back to the original purse awarded at the first running, to the presence of reigning monarchs or representatives of the royal family, the annual classic honours both history and modern times as a spectacle and an important day on the sporting calendar.
The 159th edition recently run on a scorching hot day at Woodbine Racetrack saw the big beautiful bay filly Wonder Gadot dominate a classy field to become the 37th female to capture “The Run For The Guineas”. Fillies have a glorious history at the Queen’s Plate. Many of the winners went on to become legends of the turf. Four of the past eight Plates have been won by fillies. The tradition of competitive fillies in the race has become as important to Canadian racing fans as any other tradition the race holds.
Wonder Gadot is owned by Gary Barber and trained by Mark Casse. These two very successful men were also at the managerial helm for the 2014 winner Lexie Lou, another filly to win the Queen’s Plate. Lexie Lou went on to become a Canadian Horse of the Year and a beloved star to racing fans. Wonder Gadot has since captured The Prince Of Wales Stakes in dominating fashion over a sloppy Fort Erie track and is on her way to becoming as popular as her stable predecessor.
Another aspect to Wonder Gadot’s popularity with Canadian fans is that she was bred by Dave Anderson, son of Hall of Famer Bob Anderson. Dave has continued to work diligently for the family’s breeding operation, as well as representing Canadian breeding interests with class and dignity. Wonder Gadot’s QP victory was the first for the long standing Anderson family in Canada’s biggest race.
Last year the Queen’s Plate winner was also a filly. Holy Helena was bred and raced by Frank Stronach under his Adena Springs banner. This Plate heroine had previously won the Woodbine Oaks, the race before her Plate triumph. This was Stronach’s fourth Plate victory, and second in a three year span, but the first filly to win under his colours.
Oaks winners capturing the Plate is not uncommon in history. First run in 1956 as the Canadian Oaks, the name was changed to Woodbine Oaks in 2001, seven fillies have won both events since the inaugural Oaks. While this may seem to be somewhat infrequent upon first glance, it must be said that scheduling of the two events has altered throughout the years. For long stretches of time the two races were scheduled to close together to be a viable option to compete in each race.
In recent years the Oaks has been run three weeks before the Plate, on the same card as the Plate Trial Stakes. Thus fillies that enter the Oaks and perform well give the connections hope by comparing the performance with the colts in the Plate Trails Stakes. The interval between these events and the big event give a filly’s connections a chance to prepare their charge. With the heightened impact of girls competing against the boys in the big race, a new tradition of sorts is emerging.
The fashionably dressed ladies at the track on Queen’s Plate day now have a rooting interest, with on many occasions a viable chance, to cheer a filly home creating a battle of the sexes. Due to the Queen’s Plate being viewed as the Canadian equivalent of a national Derby, a filly winning the race makes for bolder headlines.
The two most famous Derbies in world racing, The Derby Stakes at Epsom and The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, have equivalent Oaks races as does Woodbine. However these two Oaks races are traditionally run a day or two away from the respective Derby, which obviously makes it difficult for a filly to compete in both. Oaks races have historically been perceived as Derbies for fillies. If an owner and trainer want to enter a filly at either Epsom or Churchill in a Derby they can do so, but have to eschew the Oaks.
Six fillies in the history of The Derby Stakes have won the event, the last of which being Fifinella in 1916. The first filly to win the Epsom Derby was Blink Bonny in 1857. Blink Bonny is also the only filly to capture both the Derby and Oaks at Epsom, having done so with the races only two days apart. A very different era to be sure. The Kentucky Derby has seen three fillies win, the last of those being Winning Colors in 1988. Regret in 1915 and Genuine Risk in 1980 are the other two. No filly has won both the Oaks and Derby at Churchill.
A plethora of great female thoroughbreds in Canadian history have won the Queen’s Plate. Many of these female thoroughbreds are well known around the world as elite runners, and also as elite broodmares. For example the 1962 winner was the great Windfields Farm bred and raced Flaming Page. She was the first to do the Oaks/Plate double and then later became more famous as the dam of English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky. Flaming Page is also the second dam of another Epsom Derby winner in The Minstrel, also bred as was Nijinsky by Windfields Farm.
Windfields bred and raced the 1985 Oaks/Plate double winner La Lorgnette. Not considered as an attractive filly when she was young, La Lorgnette “Became better looking with each win she achieved” according to her trainer MacDonald Benson. La Lorgnette later became world known when her son Hawk Wing earned champion two year old honours in England and later captured the prestigious Eclipse Stakes and Lockinge Stakes in his career. La Lorgnette was the third Windfields bred filly to win the Queen’s Plate.
Perhaps the most famous filly to win the Queen’s Plate is widely known as “Canada’s Queen Of Racing”. We are speaking of the great Dance Smartly. Undefeated in a legendary three year old campaign, Dance Smartly not only won the Oaks and Queen’s Plate, she went on to become the only filly to capture the Canadian Triple Crown. Dance Smartly was not done there. She later beat the boys in the Molson Million Challenge and then dominated a high class field in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff.
Dance Smartly further enhanced her legend as the dam of back to back Queen’s Plate winners including her daughter Dancethruthedawn. Like her mother, Dancethruthedawn also won the Oaks and other grade one races throughout North America. Both mother and daughter have given considerable prestige and glory to Sam-Son Farm, one of the all time leading racing operations in Canadian history.
Other legendary fillies to win the Queen’s Plate include Belle Mahone, Canadiana, Nettie, Jammed Lovely and Inglorious. Stakes races have been named in honour of these legends. The Nettie Stakes for example was inaugurated in 1956 and was contested by many elite fillies and mares. The race name was changed in 1981 to The E.P. Taylor stakes to honour the great Canadian turf legend. This race is a valued grade one event on the world racing calendar and carries high prestige due to the history of previous winners and entrants.
The Queen’s Plate continues to write new and exciting chapters in its history. The recent run of filly winners has created a renewed interest for not only racing fans, but also casual sports fans that don’t necessarily follow racing closely. Wonder Gadot, Holy Helena, Lexie Lou and Inglorious have given a new generation of fans plenty to cheer for. It is no coincidence that these QP winners popularity stems from the fact they are girls beating the boys.
It has been reported that Wonder Gadot will by-pass a chance to match Dance Smartly in becoming a Triple Crown winning filly. She will instead be pointed to the elite Saratoga meet and go for one of the big prizes on offer at the famous spa. However the report also says that the target will not be the highly sought after Alabama Stakes, a world class grade one race for fillies, but the even more prestigious Travers Stakes, also known as the “Mid-Summer Classic”. Wonder Gadot is being aimed at another chance to beat the boys and if she does make the race and win, it would be her third such achievement in a row.
Being part of the team that campaigns a filly of exceptional talent such as Wonder Gadot must truly be a glorious ride. We as fans get to latch on vicariously and cheer for such an athlete and marvel at her bravery and talent. Wonder Gadot is the stuff of dreams. She is not only brave and talented, but she is also beautiful and honest. One can’t help but cheer for such a filly.
A Queen’s Plate winner that could be on the cusp of greatness. There has been a few. It will be “Wondrous” to watch.
List of Queen’s Plate Winning Fillies
1864 – Brunette 1865 – Lady Norfolk 1867 – Wild Rose
1868 – Nettie 1871 – Floss 1873 – Mignonette
1874 – The Swallow 1876 – Norah P 1877 – Amelia
1879 – Moss Rose 1880 – Bonnie Bird 1882 – Fanny Wiser
1886 – Wild Rose II 1890 – Kitestring 1898 – Bon Ino
1899 – Butter Scotch 1902 – Lyddite 1909 – Shimonese
1917 – Belle Mahone 1919 – Ladder Of Light 1922 – South Shore
1925 – Fairbank 1927 – Troutlet 1928 – Young Kitty
1932 – Queensway 1935 – Sally Fuller 1943 – Paolita
1953 – Canadiana 1962 – Flaming Page 1967 – Jammed Lovely
1985 – La Lorgnette 1991 – Dance Smartly 2001 – Dancethruthedawn
2011 – Inglorious 2014 – Lexie Lou 2017 – Holy Helena
2018 – Wonder Gadot
(First photo courtesy of Canadian Press/Micheal Burns) Wonder Gadot crosses the finish line for a well earned victory in the Queen’s Plate.
(Second Photo courtesy of the author) Wonder Gadot gets a well deserved drink following her Queen’s Plate victory on a sweltering day.
(Third photo courtesy of Micheal Burns/Blood-Horse) The great Dance Smartly in action at Woodbine.