Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. After a brief vacation, we’re back with the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
While our normal focus is racing in the United States, for this week’s story let’s head north of the border for a spell to revisit Canada’s Kentucky Derby.
If there’s any doubt over the surging interest in international racing here in the U.S., it was on full display the last two weeks.
The appeal of Royal Ascot, which ran from June 19-23, is simple to understand. When you have Queen Elizabeth II and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the paddock (or the parade grounds, as they call it in England) and Group 1 stakes on a Tuesday, you know you have an extremely popular commodity on your hands.
Yet a more telling turn of events involves the interest in the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most popular race and the opening leg of its Triple Crown for 3-year-olds.
Go back 10 years and the Queen’s Plate was an afterthought in America. If you do not concur, then name the horse and jockey who won the 2008 Queen’s Plate. If you said Not Bourbon and Jono Jones without the help of Siri or Google, kudos to you, though I don’t there are many of you out there here in the States.
And while there’s interest in wagering on Woodbine racing on daily basis through large and competitive fields, the same cannot be said for the battles to determine a Sovereign Award, Canada’s answer to the Eclipse Awards.
Saturday was a much different story with genuine interest in a race that is capturing the attention of more and more American fans and encouraging more of them to head to Toronto to be in attendance.
Those fortunate enough to travel there found was a packed house at Woodbine Racetrack, the excitement of a historic race’s 159th edition, a card with three graded stakes plus the Queen’s Plate, and a winner of the $1 million featured race who is well-known here in America.
Since the Queen’s Plate is restricted to horses bred in Canada, a large part of the interest in the United States would seem to be linked to the list of connections with American ties who have won the race in recent years. With horses such as Holy Helena, Sir Dudley Digges, and Shaman Ghost; owners like Stronach Stables and Ken and Sarah Ramsey; and trainers Jimmy Jerkens, Mike Maker, and Brian Lynch winning the race, it has become a much easier sell to fans in the 50 states.
Saturday’s Queen’s Plate fit into the same mold with a victory by Wonder Gadot, the same 3-year-old filly who battled Monomoy Girl so tenaciously in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks before losing by a half-length. Owned by Gary Barber, she’s trained by Mark Casse, a Hall of Famer in Canada and a Hall of Fame finalist in the U.S.
Add in an undercard that featured a Grade 1 win by the 7-year-old million-dollar earner Long On Value and trainer Chad Brown’s horses finishing 1-2 in a graded turf stakes, and it was the kind of card you might find on a summer day in New York.
The day also included a great 13-race betting card that featured an $88 winner, three that paid $16 or more and only one that paid less than $6.30, and the result was a handle of $14.6 million that eclipsed every other day at Woodbine except that day in 1996 when the Breeders’ Cup came to town.
Admittedly, interest in the Prince of Wales and the Breeders’ Stakes, the remaining legs in the Canadian Triple Crown, will not be the same as the Queen’s Plate, but for now Canadian fans have an excellent greeting card in the Queen’s Plate and that should be lost in the shuffle.
Nicely positioned between the American Triple Crown and the start of racing at Del Mar and Saratoga, Woodbine can take pride that has a very old and historic race that has gained a new audience and has a future that only seems to get brighter, even as it approaches the ripe old age of 160.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: