How Wild Rose won the Queen’s Plate in 1867 - and again 19 years later

The Queen’s Plate in 2013: now a race steeped in tradition, it was all but devoid of it over the course of its first two decades. Photo: WEG/Michael Burns Photo

Thirty-six fillies have won the Queen’s Plate in the Canadian classic’s 158-year history. Two of them were chestnut mares named Wild Rose.

The use of the name was not a coincidence, serving as one of the most visible totems for the command that brothers John and James White had on the Queen’s Plate in its gritty formative years, along with their prized broodmare, Yellow Rose.

Born in County Tyrone, Ireland, the Whites arranged their Thoroughbred operation to play to each other’s strengths. John, a lumber baron, militia leader, and pot-stirring politician in Canada’s Liberal Party, handled the human element. His bold posturing as a legislator made for a natural transition into boasting about his stable to the papers.

White’s 1897 obituary in the Milton, Ontario, newspaper The Canadian Champion displayed his flair for appealing to the media, leading him to be remembered as “one of Canada’s most loyal citizens” and “a man of great business ability and strong character, which showed itself in his public life by his outspoken support of whatever he believed to be right”.

Brother James White abhorred the spotlight, and instead handled the equine interests on their 320-acre farm in Bronte, Ontario (the province was then known as Upper Canada), called Woodlands. He also acted as the trainer of record for much of their time at the races.

High-profile maiden race

Now a race steeped in tradition, the Queen’s Plate was all but devoid of it over the course of its first two decades.

The first 22 editions were held at 15 different tracks around modern-day Ontario at four different distances varying between a mile and two miles. It was essentially a high-profile maiden race, open to Upper Canadian-bred and -owned 3-year-olds and up who had never won a public match, purse, or stakes race. In contrast, the modern Queen’s Plate is open to 3-year-olds born in any province, most of them already well-established winners, and it has been contested at a mile and a quarter since 1957.

A July 1900 piece in The Canadian Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature described the Queen’s Plate as more of a political football to dive upon than a fan attraction in its early years.

“For four years, 1860-1863, the race was run at Carlton, when, under pressure from members of Parliament, the ‘feast’ became a movable one, and the fall courses … became in turn the scene of an annual struggle for the guineas, only surpassed in the acrimony, so it is said, by the yearly struggle among politicians for having the race allotted to this, that or the other constituency,” the story read.

The first Wild Rose

In the early 1850s, the Whites added a Virginia-bred to the Woodlands broodmare roster named Yellow Rose, who became synonymous with Queen’s Plate success for nearly three decades, eventually appearing in the pedigrees of eight Plate winners. That reign began with her third foal, Don Juan, who won the inaugural Queen’s Plate in 1860 as a homebred under the Whites’ scarlet silks.

In 1861, a year after Don Juan’s Plate triumph, Yellow Rose had a filly by the imported British-bred sire Lapidist who the Whites named Wild Rose.

The 1867 Queen’s Plate was held in St. Catharines, a town near the U.S. border at Niagara Falls, just weeks before the Canadian Confederation united the region’s British colonies into a singular entity.

The race entered with controversy after the meet was postponed by nearly a month due to a combination of heavy rain and insufficient entries. The abruptness of the decision was chided by the local newspaper, the St. Catharines Daily Journal, noting the plight of the horsemen that had shipped in for the race.

“It might have been more judicious – the better policy to have gone straight along, but the majority of the Club thought different,” the piece read. “We believe a mistake was made in adjourning, and probably regret it, but the weather and the state of the track afforded a good justification for the vote.”

Interest from the local population remained strong during the rescheduled meet. Attendance exceeded 2,000, helped along by a proclamation from the mayor suspending business in the town for the day.

The first Wild Rose was six years old when she contested the eighth Queen’s Plate, and she was pegged as one of the favorites. The brash John White was true to form in his confidence before the race, as reported in a dispatch from the Hamilton Evening Times.

“The coolness with which Mr. White spoke of the probabilities of his mare obtaining the victory was certainly characteristic, in a crowd where everybody had a favorite horse, whose achievements they did not fail to herald forth,” the Evening Times reported.

Of the many separators between the Queen’s Plates of the 1800s and the races of today, perhaps the biggest was that the first renewals were run in heats. Entrants could run up to four times in the span of a day, getting as little as 20 minutes to rest between races. The first horse to secure two victories was the winner, with a run-off occurring in the fourth heat if different horses won the first three legs.

That stipulation was not an issue for Wild Rose, who swept the first two heats in front-running fashion to win the Whites’ third Plate as owners.

The first heat was dominant, with Wild Rose turning away a challenge from Sea Of Erin to draw off in the stretch and win the one-mile race by two lengths. The time of 1:50½ was a Plate record at the distance, and, because this was the last edition of the race at a mile, the mark still stands today.

Wayward horseman

Twenty-five minutes elapsed between heats, delayed further by three false starts prior to the second race. Once the field was finally away, Wild Rose was tracked closely by rivals Country Maid and Izeppa at the front of a tightly-bunched field, but she held on to clinch the Plate by a half-length.

The finish of the second heat was made even more eventful by the interference of a man known in the record books and newspapers only as ‘Mr. Fagan’, who is listed as Wild Rose’s trainer in the race.

As the Hamilton Evening Journal described the incident, Fagan ran onto the course as the field approached the judge’s stand to encourage jockey Alex McLaughlin to ‘whip up’. Misjudging his spacing with the oncoming horses, he was struck in the shoulder by eventual runner-up Country Maid, which “spun him round like a top into the ditch”. The wayward horseman was rattled, but unscathed.

Somehow, that was not the incident that threatened to get Wild Rose disqualified from the Queen’s Plate. W.B. Flint, owner of Country Maid, gave notice of a protest against the winner for earning ‘public money’ after it was found she ran second in a Hamilton, Ontario, race the previous year, making her ineligible by his interpretation of the rule.

The Whites had benefited from the ‘public money’ rule during the 1863 Queen’s Plate, when their homebred Touchstone was promoted to first place after two weeks of deliberation found that unofficial winner, Willie Wonder, had won a race prior to entering the Plate.

Wild Rose’s objection wasn’t nearly as drawn out, with reports of it being either dropped or denied within a couple days of the race. The conditions only disqualified horses that won ‘public money’ races, not those that collected purse money but failed to win.

The second Wild Rose

By 1886, the White family’s stranglehold on the Canadian classic was reaching its twilight. They’d won 11 Plates as owners or breeders, but the brothers were getting infirm.  

John White was 75 years old and slowing down his racing interests, while brother James had been bedridden since 1872. The family’s stable raced in the name of John’s son-in-law, David W. Campbell, though the public generally acknowledged that the brothers remained in control of the operation.

Blue hen mare Yellow Rose remained a prominent part of the Woodlands program throughout the ensuing generations. In addition to her own pair of Plate winners, a daughter of Yellow Rose produced two winners of the classic, and two granddaughters each brought up a pair of their own.

The final Plate winner in the historic succession was another filly named Wild Rose, a great-granddaughter of matriarch Yellow Rose. Her dam, the Copec mare Stolen Kisses, was sold to eventual Mexican president Gen. Manuel Gonzalez and exported, but not before she had a chestnut filly by Princeton for the White brothers.

As circumstances had changed for the Whites, so had they for the Queen’s Plate. After presenting itself as a traveling show for most of its early existence, the race found a permanent home in Woodbine Race Course, a track in Toronto near the shore of Lake Ontario, better known today as ‘Old Woodbine’, or the defunct Greenwood Raceway. The race also shed its structure of multiple heats in 1879, leaving one race to decide the winner.

One thing that hadn’t yet changed about the race was the open age conditions, which led to the second Wild Rose joining of a handful of horses that won the Queen’s Plate from multiple tries.

It’s unclear what compelled the Whites to recycle the name of one of their Plate winners on the filly. There appears to be no record of the breeders giving a reason to the media, but they do have some history of repeating names, particularly a pair of fillies named Amelia from the female family of Yellow Rose.

Wild Rose, a half-sister to 1881 Plate winner Vice Chancellor, was a non-factor in her first attempt at the classic, finishing eighth to Willie W. in 1885. One blunt account of the 3-year-old filly in the Toronto World described her as “big and fat” in her debut effort.

However, the same report heaped praise upon the work that trainer/jockey Charley Butler had done to get Wild Rose in top form for the 1886 Plate. A year after her first try, Wild Rose still maintained her ‘public money’ eligibility for the race.

Growing pains

The 1886 Queen’s Plate was the fourth edition since Old Woodbine became its permanent home, but a dispatch from The Spirit of the Times showed that the race was still experiencing some growing pains in its new location.

“A rather large, if not enthusiastic nor sporting-like assembly met at the lovely Woodbine to witness the two day’s sport offered by the Ontario Jockey Club,” the correspondent grumbled. “The fields were, as usual, rather poor, and the bookmaking interest tried and partially succeeded, in hitting very hard at the unlucky public.”

Wild Rose was in the middle of the pack according to the betting public, some of which surely remembered her flat effort the previous year.

Similar to her namesake, the second Wild Rose’s race was delayed at the starting line, this time by a broken saddle on betting favorite Bonnie Duke that required repair.

When the field was finally sent away, Wild Rose settled in fifth under Butler, heading up the second flight of runners. The duo gradually crept up across the backstretch toward leaders Ben Bolt and Fred Henry, who were locked in a pace battle. It was Fred Henry’s third try at the Plate after finishing second the previous year and eighth in 1884.

Bold move

The filly made a bold move for the lead in the final turn, and she took aim on Fred Henry in the stretch after the hard-urged and tiring leader disposed of Ben Bolt. Butler, on the other hand, had a fresh horse. The two competitors drew even the stretch, but Wild Rose had all of the momentum when they locked up.

“As they came to the three-quarter post, Fred Henry still held the lead, but it was evident that the speedy daughter of Princeton and Stolen Kisses had the race in hand,” a recap from The Canadian Champion detailed. “She was galloping with a strong, even stride while the stallion was catching the whip heavily at every jump.”

The same story described a chilly hand ride from Butler, as he and Wild Rose breezed past her game rival to win the 1½-mile race by three-quarters of a length.

The time of 2:48¼ was the fastest by a Queen’s Plate winner since the race was moved to Old Woodbine, and like the previous Wild Rose, it was the last time the race was contested at the distance, giving the Whites and their Wild Roses a pair of Plate records that may never be broken.

“She is a big raking chestnut mare, and had the advantage of being the best trained of the whole field, and was certainly the best ridden,” The World wrote.

With his ‘public money’ conditions still intact, the aging Fred Henry contested the Queen’s Plate for a final time the following year at age eight. For a third year, he was the runner-up, this time to Bonnie Duke, whose saddle problems doomed him to run sixth to Wild Rose in 1886.

Crumbling operation

The second Wild Rose was the final bookend for the White family’s classic success. They campaigned one more Queen’s Plate starter under Campbell’s name, the colt D.W.C., who finished 12th in 1887.

After that, the operation began to crumble. Campbell died suddenly of appendicitis in 1896 at just 49 years old, and John White followed a year later at age 86 after a long illness. James White lived to age 90, but his final 27 years were spent as an invalid until he died in 1899.

The White Brothers and Yellow Rose were named to the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame in 1996, joined by their stallion Terror, who himself sired four Plate winners.

Even the sport’s greatest dynasties can fall victim to getting lost in the pages of history if the bloodlines fail to persevere, and that appears to be the case with the White brothers’ Woodlands breeding program. Yellow Rose’s influence through her daughters dried up in the second Wild Rose’s generation. Any stray instances of her sons appearing in modern pedigrees as stallions would require laser-guided accuracy to find going back numerous generations, and they might not be there at all.

Their presence in the modern Queen’s Plate might be scant, but the achievements of the firebrand owner and the taciturn trainer from Ireland set the first bar for achievement in the classic - one that even the best of today’s Canadian horsemen are left to chase. There is success, and then there is success to the point of redundancy, to overabundance. The White Brothers and their Roses defined the latter.

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