Friday, July 5, 2013

Queen's Plate Preview: Nipissing set to make a splash in Queen's Plate

On Sunday, a field of 12 will burst from the gate in the $1-million Queen's Plate, at Woodbine.

The Plate, the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown, is raced at a distance of 1 1/4-miles.  It will be the first attempt at the distance for each of the contenders and there are numerous questions to be answered in trying to decipher the race. 
Woodbine Oaks winner Nipissing
Who can get the distance?
 If Midnight Aria (15-1), as the lone pace presence, dictates a slow tempo, can he win gate to wire?

How much will the projected relaxed pace hamper closers such as Up With the Birds (2-1) and Pyrite Mountain (6-1)?

How will the fillies, Nipissing (7-2) and Spring in the Air (10-1), match up against the boys?

And, which horses have trained best coming into the race?

As an employee of the Woodbine media office, I’m hopeful that our QueensPlate.Com website can assist handicappers interpret an answer to all these questions, and more.

Over the past week, we’ve posted a number of resources on the site including video footage of final workouts for the contenders and a quintet of #QP2013 pieces, written by a talented group of Twitter personalities, each with their own angle.

Sid Fernando, an internationally known pedigree writer whose work has appeared in Daily Racing Form, Racing Post, Pacemaker and Thoroughbred Daily News, took a closer look at which contenders should be able to traverse 1¼-miles the quickest.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer who blogs at EquiSpace and has a weekly racing column in The Buffalo News, sat down with trainer Mark Casse to talk about his FOUR Queen’s Plate hopefuls - - DynamicSky, Spring in the Air, Jagger M and Kaigun.

On Saturday, we’ll hear from Pat Cummings, Director of Racing Information for Trakus, with a piece that analyzes pace dynamics by pouring over data from the Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser, as well as the Plate Trial.

On Sunday, Ed DeRosa, Director of Marketing for BRISNet, will offer up a final #QP2013 piece that will include a Pick 4 matrix to help handicappers take down the guaranteed $200K Late Pick 4.

As an added bonus, free Queen’s Plate selections by HorsePlayer Now and BRISNet have been posted on the QueensPlate.Com homepage. And that's all in addition to Woodbine's daily handicapping resources.

That’s a lot of information to absorb, but I’m hopeful that by 5:38 p.m. EST on Sunday, we’ll all have selected the Queen’s Plate winner.

There are three main preps to review in advance of the Queen's Plate.  

The Marine Stakes won by Up With the Birds.

The Plate Trial won by Dynamic Sky.

The Woodbine Oaks won by Nipissing.

Let’s take a closer look at the field:

1 / Midnight Aria / Jesse Campbell / Nick Gonzalez / 15-1

In the Plate Trial, Midnight Aria was pushed through the opening quarter by longshot Holy Whirlwind. When the pressure subsided, jockey Jesse Campbell managed to carve out more moderate middle fractions and battled on gamely to be third, defeated less than two lengths by Dynamic Sky and runner-up His Race to Win.
Midnight Aria
It’s worth noting that Midnight Aria stayed on strong beyond the wire in the Plate Trial - - distance should not be a problem, as this was not a fading horse.  Trainer Nick Gonzalez has opened up the blinkers on the bay which should help him relax on the lead on Sunday.

If there’s a golden rail on Sunday at Woodbine, this is the only horse in the race with the front-running form to benefit.  He’s winter raced, making his eighth start of the season in the Plate, so fitness is not an issue.

The Midnight Lute colt put in a sharp :59.40 breeze on June 27 with fellow contender River Seven. (Watch thework here.)

2 / Dynamic Sky / Joel Rosario / Mark Casse / 4-1

A three-time winner, Dynamic Sky doesn’t always get a perfect trip.  He won the Pasco at Tampa in January; but then finished second, when racing wide, in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis.

In the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, Dynamic Sky raced too close, and too wide, to the quick step of Verrazano, eventually finishing fourth.  His time on the Kentucky Derby trail came to a close when 9th, following a slow start, in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, at Keeneland.
Dynamic Sky 
Returned to the comfortable confines of Woodbine, Dynamic Sky closed to be third, with a good effort, in the seven furlong Queenston won by speedster Black Hornet. That winner came back to score in the Achievement Stakes.

Dynamic Sky, back at two turns, put in a sharp performance in the Plate Trial, going nine furlongs, closing from well back to nose out His Race to Win…for the win.

Joel Rosario, your 2013 Eclipse Award winning rider (let’s face it, he’s won), will pilot Dynamic Sky.  Rosario has enjoyed a remarkable season with wins in the $10-million Dubai World Cup, G1 Kentucky Derby, G1 Met Mile and he dominated the Keeneland meet like no other. He recently won at Royal Ascot, so why not add a Canadian classic to the mix?

Dynamic Sky breezed five furlongs in 1:01 on June 26. (Watch the work here.)

3 / Jagger M / Shaun Bridgmohan / Mark Casse / 20-1

Has Jagger M got the moves to win the Plate?

He’s a maiden winner, but he appears to have talent.  Two starts ago he finished in front of fellow Casse trainee Dynamic Sky in the Queenston.

Last time out in the Plate Trial, Jagger M closed from tenth, and last, to be sixth.  But, it might have been a better effort than it appears on paper

“It was the first time (for him) going two turns and they sprinted home,” said Casse. “He came home the last three-eighths in 36 and change.  So it was impossible for him to close so I thought all in all, his race was good.”

Since there’s likely no pace to run at in the Plate, it will be up to Shaun Bridgmohan to work out a trip.

Jagger M breezed five furlongs in 1:02.20 on June 30. (Watch the work here.)

4 / Spring in the Air / Joel Rosario / Mark Casse / 10-1

She’s the only Grade 1 winner in the field.  Sure, she’s a girl, but 34 fillies have won the Plate.  Inglorious, a daughter of Hennessy, won the Plate in 2011 so this is not an impossible or unheard of task.

By Spring at Last, the Casse trainee romped a maiden score by 10 lengths in August and nearly collared stablemate Spring Venture in the G2 Natalma when second, defeated less than two lengths.
Spring in the Air
Spring in the Air then shipped to Keeneland and won the G1 Darley Alcibiades before completing her campaign with a fifth-place run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

In her most recent starts, at Woodbine, Spring in the Air has flourished winning the seven furlong Fury Stakes and then closed from eighth, and last, to be second to Nipissing in the Woodbine Oaks.

Nipissing got the jump on Spring in the Air in the Oaks.

“Even (jockey) Joel (Rosario) said maybe he was too far back,” said Casse, about the Oaks.  “I don’t know.  I thought she had her opportunity to win. I just think Nipissing outran her that day.  We had every chance to beat her but she proved best. Hopefully we can move up a length or two (in the Plate).”

Gary Boulanger will take over the reins on Sunday with Rosario slated to ride Dynamic Sky.

Spring in the Air breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40 on June 29. To watch the work and interview with Boulanger, click here.

5 / County Lineman / Alex Solis / Mark Frostad / 30-1

He’s consistent.  Two wins and two thirds from six starts.  But, both his wins came at seven furlongs.

Last time out, the Mark Frostad trainee finished third in an allowance route won (by nearly nine lengths) by Good Better Best. That winner, a five-year-old, came back to be second in the Steady Growth Stakes.
County Lineman

Still, County Lineman, a rallying son of Silent Name, is on the improve even if stable mate Pyrite Mountain gets more column inches.

“He’s not a bad horse now.  He might surprise a few people,” offered Frostad.  “He’s a different type than the other one (Pyrite Mountain).   He’s very active.  He gets revved up pretty easily but he’s been getting better and I think he’ll give a good account of himself.” 

County Lineman breezed six furlongs, in company with Pyrite Mountain, in 1:12.20 on June 29. (Watch the work here.)

6 / Kaigun / Justin Stein / Mark Casse / 20-1

With only three starts to his name, Kaigun is likely to be the longest priced horse of the Casse quartet.

A son of Northern Afleet, Kaigun broke his maiden going two turns in a May 18 allowance route at Woodbine.  Last time out, in the Plate Trial, Kaigun, normally a deep closer, raced closer to the pace and finished seventh.

He’ll go back to closing on Sunday, but he’ll be one of many coming from the back into little pace.

“We’ve kind of rushed him along,” said Casse.  “His first two races he was way back and came running.  I thought in his last race we tried to keep him closer and it didn’t work. Jockey) Gary (Boulanger) said he was just running on and off (the bridle).   We’re going to give him another shot.   He’s trained probably as good as anybody other than Spring in the Air.”

Justin Stein, last year’s Plate winner, takes over on Sunday.

Kaigun breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 on June 30. (Watchthe work here.)

7 / Up With the Birds / Eurico Rosa da Silva / Malcolm Pierce / 2-1

Ladies and gentlemen, your deserving Plate favourite! A four-time winner from six starts (to go along with a second and a third), the Stormy Atlantic colt regularly posts 80+ Beyer numbers.

Last time out, Up With the Birds earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure when running away with the Marine Stakes over Grade 3 Lexington champ Winning Cause.

Up With the Birds has proven his talent on both sides of the border winning the Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds in Louisiana, and he also finished an excellent second, defeated a neck by Jack Milton, in the grassy Grade 3 Transylvania, at Keeneland.
Up With the Birds
Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva has won this race on two occasions so the colt, trained by Malcolm Pierce for Sam-Son Farms, is in excellent hands.

Pierce isn’t concerned, at all, about the time off (six weeks) between the Marine and Queen’s Plate.

 “It was kind of planned,” said Pierce, about running in the Marine (on May 26) and directly into the Plate, while skipping the Plate Trial.  “We did that on purpose to give him six weeks (between starts).   He’s an easy horse to train, not hard on himself.  He’s medium-sized but he carries good weight.   I’m not worried about it (time between races).  I think the timing’s good.   I want to go into the Plate with a fresh horse.”

Up With the Birds breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 with stablemate His Race to Win on June 30. (Watch the work here.)

8 / Rackman / Jim McAleney / Nick Nosowenko / 50-1

He’s 50-1 and likely longer odds come post time for the Plate, but you have to be in it to win it.

Like Oaks winning filly Nipissing, he’s sired by 2004 Plate winner Niigon - - and that alone, gave aforementioned pedigree expert SidFernando, pause to reflect:

Rackman, a homebred for Mike and Nick Nosowenko, is not as accomplished as Nipissing. It took him nine starts to break his maiden, and even that was accomplished in a dead heat last time out. But he, too, stalks the pace, and his race record bears some resemblance to that of his sire's. It took Niigon seven starts to win his first race, and the Queen's Plate was only his second win from nine starts.
Nosowenko knows his horse is taking a huge step up in class, but is certain his horse can handle the distance if he can work out a clean trip.

"Woodbine opened a little later this year, so he had extra time off and we've only got three races into him," noted Nosowenko. "He went seven-eighths (on debut) and made a nice close. Then we ran a mile and a sixteenth and he was dead last, 18 lengths behind where we wanted him to be, and he ended up fourth, just four lengths behind, closing on the outside.  Plus, he got into trouble on the turn for home."

9 / Nipissing / Steve Bahen / Rachel Halden / 7-2

Isn’t she lovely. She’s a long-striding daughter of Niigon, trained by Rachel Halden, and she gets better the further she goes.  I’ve yet to hear anyone (expert, pundit, trainer or jockey) question Nipissing’s ability to travel 1 1/4-miles.

She arrives at the Plate off the biggest win of her career, in the Woodbine Oaks, which earned an 87 Beyer Speed Figure.  Regular rider Steve Bahen fits her like a glove and will be tasked with getting the big filly into gear when the field turns for home.
If there is no speed in this race, then the stalking trip Bahen engineered in the Oaks should be preferred over the deep closers.

"The trip will probably be the same as the Oaks," said Bahen. "Sit within four or five lengths, get a clean trip and hopefully it (a win) will happen again."

Bahen, who captured the 2002 Queen's Plate with 82-1 longshot T J's Lucky Moon, was aboard Nipissing for her final breeze on June 30 in advance of the Plate, covering a half-mile in :48 flat. "It was very easy for her," said Bahen. "She galloped out strongly and you have to tell her to pull up."  (Watch thework here.)

10 / Pyrite Mountain / Luis Contreras / Mark Frostad / 6-1

Call up the replay of the Plate Trial and watch the gallop out.  Pyrite Mountain, from the inside post, closed from way back into slow fractions to be fourth in the Plate Trial.

But he won the gallop out by open lengths.

Some will say that gallop out doesn’t matter, but it’s certainly encouraging to think Pyrite Mountain had that much energy at the end of a nine furlong test.

Hall of Fame trainer Mark Frostad was well pleased with the effort.

“I thought he ran a great race,” said Frostad, about in the Plate Trial.   “The first quarter was a good solid quarter (23.56), then they slowed it down in the next two quarters (48.57 and 1:14.06), 50 (seconds) and change.   That didn’t help him.  It gave him a lot to do, but he was getting there late and he galloped out very strongly.   So I was very pleased with the effort.  It’s tough to close into a pace like that.”

Top Woodbine rider Luis Contreras retains the mount and those considering a wager can only be encouraged by Pyrite Mountain’s six furlong breeze, in company with County Lineman, in 1:12.20 on June 29. (Watch the work here.)

11 / His Race to Win / John Velazquez / Malcolm Pierce / 10-1

A headline writer’s dream.  This bay son of Stormy Atlantic, trained by Malcolm Pierce for Sam-Son Farms, is improving with each race. Following starts at Fair Grounds (2nd) and Keeneland (6th), His Race to Win returned to Woodbine and broke his maiden by 5 ½-lengths.

Last time out, in the Plate Trial, His Race to Win surged between rivals in deep stretch only to be caught in the final jump by Dynamic Sky.

His Race to Win
“He came home here after a little bit of a disappointing race at Keeneland,” explained Pierce.   “But it seems like the light bulb went off in his head.    It took him a while (to break his maiden) but I thought it was a pretty impressive race.   Since then, he seems to be marching forward.  He just seems to be doing better and better every week.   So, he’s going in the right direction into the Plate, that’s for sure.  I think people were surprised at how big a race he ran in the Plate Trial.  But for all of us at the barn, we thought he was doing good enough to deserve a start there.”

With jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva taking the call on Plate favourite, and stablemate Up With the Birds, Pierce has called on Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. 

His Race to Win breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 with stablemate Up With the Birds on June 30. (Watch the work here.)

12 / River Seven / Todd Kabel / Nick Gonzalez / 20-1

If you draw a line through River Seven’s last start his form is suddenly much better than the 20-1 offered here.

River Seven, trained by Nick Gonzalez for Tucci Stables, finished a defeated eighth in the Plate Trial after stumbling badly out of the gate.

“He's doing very well right now,” said Martha Gonzalez, assistant, and wife, to trainer Nick Gonzalez. “This is his third start off a layoff. In the Plate Trial, he fell out of the gate. He was a little fractious the first time he ran this year and I thought it was opening day jitters for him. For this race, he's been schooled at the gate and he'll be standing up better in the gate this time.”

River Seven won the Grade 3 Grey Stakes, going 1 1/16-miles in October, so he can handle two turns.

The Johannesburg colt breezed five furlongs in :59.80 on June 27 with fellow contender Midnight Aria. (Watch the work here.)


Someone is going to have to pressure Midnight Aria, but who?  And they can’t all engineer the same stalking trip that Nipissing used so successfully in the Woodbine Oaks.

I’m convinced that Nipissing can get the distance and concerned that Spring in the Air could be more prominently placed this time around - will she have enough left when the real running starts?

I expect both fillies to be getting into gear as they turn for home, but can either filly hold off the rallying Up With the Birds and Pyrite Mountain?  I think one of them can.

1.    Nipissing
2.    Up With the Birds
3.    Pyrite Mountain

Be sure to follow @TripleDeadHeat  and #QP2013 on Twitter throughout the Queen’s Plate weekend for live updates from Woodbine.

1 comment:

Holy Racehorse! said...

Hi Keith!
Noticed you haven't blogged much lately, either.
I've just started again. Seems that a lot of us TB bloggers have been slack lately. Things seem to look better for the industry now, maybe we'll all have more to blog about ;o)