Queen’s Plate winner Holy Helena could be ‘very special’

Stepping up to the Plate: Holy Helena and Luis Contreras triumphant at Woodbine yesterday. Photo: Michael Burns/Woodbine

Holy Helena became North America’s newest superstar filly yesterday with a hugely impressive victory in the $1-million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine. The Stronach Stable filly, winner last time of the 1⅛-mile Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser, in just her third career start, was even better when facing males for the first time yesterday.

The 158th running of the 1¼-mile Plate, North America’s oldest annually run stakes race, lured a field of 13 Canadian-bred 3-year-olds. Luis Contreras had picked up the mount on Stronach Stable’s Holy Helena for the first time in the Woodbine Oaks, which she won by one length. Yesterday the Ghostzapper filly won by 3½ lengths.

“I was very confident today after winning the Oaks, and last Monday I breezed her on the surface and she did it pretty easy,” said Contreras, who was winning his second Queen’s Plate, the first coming with the filly Inglorious in 2011.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, winning his first Queen’s Plate with his first-ever runner, was at Belmont on Sunday and racing manager Mike Doyle spoke for the Stronach Stable outfit.

Fantastic shape

“She arrived in fantastic shape and maintained it the whole way through,” said Doyle, who also trains a string of his own at Woodbine. Jimmy [Jerkens] and I, and the whole team here, we’re in touch every day.

“I think she could be very good. What she did there today, with so much ease, was incredible,” said Doyle. “She ran faster than the Dominion Day yesterday, won by a good horse who has been around for a little while [Melmich]. I’d say she could be very special.”

In winning the Queen’s Plate, Holy Helena became the eighth filly to complete the Oaks-Plate double since Woodbine opened its gates in 1956.

The Queen’s Plate win was the fourth as owner-breeder for Team Stronach, their latest success coming with Shaman Ghost in 2015.

“I think she is a very good horse,” said Stronach, of Holy Helena. “I put a lot of effort in, a lot of time in and naturally I can put all the money in and do everything great, but you still need some luck.”

Dead aim

As expected, State Of Honor made the early pace through a quarter in :24.17, half in :48.67, and six furlongs in 1:13.23. Megagray, who had stalked the frontrunner from second place in his first start with blinkers, poked his head in front in early stretch and led by that margin with the mile going in 1:37.64.

Holy Helena, who was the 2-1 favourite, moved into third heading around the far turn and had dead aim on the leaders.

“I got a dream trip, really,” said Contreras. “She broke really good. She gave me a lot of time to see the horses outside of me, what they are going to do, what they are trying to do. She was so nice and relaxed behind those horses and I had a lot of horse at the three-eighth [pole], so I took a look back to see where everybody was. I waited for the [final] quarter-pole to run.”

Tiz A Slam, who was looking to give trainer Roger Attfield his record Queen’s Plate win and break a deadlock with Harry Giddings Jr., closed stoutly from midpack and finished  second, 1¾ lengths ahead of Inflexibility in third.

“I could not be more happy,” said Tiz A Slam’s rider, Eurico Rosa Da Silva.

Inflexibility, who finished third in the Woodbine Oaks, replicated that placing for trainer Chad Brown as the only other filly in the Queen’s Plate field. “It was good,” said jockey Javier Castellano, who had placed Inflexibility within striking distance and finished well in the latter stages. “I wish there was a little more pace in the race to set it up. She fought past the horses despite the slow pace and she still finished really strong.”

Channel Maker, the first Queen’s Plate entrant for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, made a run from well off the pace before flattening out to finish fourth, a half-length behind Inflexibility as the 6-1 third choice.

Both Megagray and Spirit Of Caledon performed above expectations in finishing fifth and sixth respectively.

King And His Court, Canada’s champion 2-year-old male, never entered serious contention and ended seventh with State Of Honor, his Mark Casse-trained barnmate, eighth. Aurora Way, bet down to 5-1 second favourite despite having only one maiden victory under his belt, was prominent early but weakened to finish ninth.

The 13-race Queen's Plate card produced a record handle of $13,560,678, eclipsing the $11,839,883 number of a year ago.

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