Surviving a photo finish, WellSpring Stables' Safe Conduct held on gamely to win the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown by a head over fast-closing Riptide Rock, who rallied wide in the center of the track.
Safe Conduct, the 3-1 favorite in a competitive field, finished 1 ¼ miles over the Woodbine Tapeta surface in 2:02.85 with most of the other 12 bunched in traffic behind him.
"That was very close," said a breathless Irad Ortiz Jr., the reigning three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey in the U.S. who won his first Queen’s Plate. "I just saw somebody flying outside and I didn't know if I won the race under the wire."
Safe Conduct, a Bodemeister colt, was off to a good start from the inside post position, running second as longshot Take a Chance took the early lead. Those two held their positions rounding the far turn but as Take a Chance faded, Safe Conduct inherited the advantage and held on.
Riptide Rock, a Point of Entry gelding, got going on the turn but had nowhere to go as the field spread out in front of him. Lacking any other option, jockey David Moran took the overland route to just miss.
"Thank God it worked out good," Ortiz said. "I got the right horse. He was working good and everything came out perfect in the race. I was up close in a good spot and when I asked him to go, he responded really well.
"He was running nice and smooth. We didn't ask him too much. Then I felt like somebody was coming outside of me so I go ahead at the top of the stretch and when I hit him, he responded really well. He kept moving forward."
H C Holiday finished a length behind Riptide Rock in third, and Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser-winning filly Munnyfor Ro finished fourth.
Safe Conduct was purchased for $45,000 out of the Cara Bloodstock consignment at the 2018 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. He came to the Plate the winner of two of his previous six starts for trainer Phil Serpe. In his most recent two starts, he finished fourth, beaten 13 lengths in the off-the-turf Pennine Ridge Stakes, and then finished a fading eighth in the Belmont Derby Invitational.
From seven starts, Safe Conduct has built a 3-1-0 record and earned $603,202.
The Queen's Plate is the oldest continuously run stakes in North America, with the first running taking place in 1860. The next jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown is the Prince of Wales Stakes on dirt at Fort Erie on Sept. 14. The series wraps up Oct. 3 back at Woodbine for the Breeders’ Stakes on turf.–Bob Kieckhefer