No matter how many Queen's Plate races Eurico Rosa da Silva wins, the second will likely always be the sweetest.
Rosa da Silva staked Big Red Mike to a wire-to-wire victory in the $1-million race at Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday in Toronto.
Included in the crowd of 25,000 to 30,000 on the hot, breezy summer afternoon was the Queen, who made her fourth appearance at the Toronto track but first since 1997. She presented the race trophy to Rosa da Silva and Big Red Mike's connections in the winner's circle.
"I just told her I am so happy to see her, to meet her," Rosa da Silva said. "It was a great feeling.
"Winning the Queen's Plate is great, but doing it with the Queen here is so special. Very, very special day."
Trainer Nicholas Gonzalez, a Fort Erie, Ont., resident who emerged victorious in his first Queen's Plate, wasn't sure if he actually spoke to the Queen.
"Actually, I can't remember," he said. "I don't think I said anything to her.
"I let Rico do the talking, he's good at that. The last eighth was a blur. I asked by how much he won by and Rico didn't know, I didn't know, my son didn't know, my wife didn't know but hey, it was just a wonderful ride."
Rosa da Silva claimed North America's longest continuously run stakes event for the second year in a row after winning the 2009 edition aboard Eye of the Leopard. He became the first jockey since Craig Perret did so aboard Alydeed and Peteski in 1992 and 1993, respectively, to win consecutive Queen's Plates.
But not before having a heart-to-heart chat with Big Red Mike prior to the race.
"Before the race I told him, at least one time, 'My friend we're going to do our best but the Queen is here, OK?"' Rosa da Silva said with a chuckle. "'No pressure."'
Big Red Mike, who went off at 5-1 odds, captured the $600,000 winner's share by finishing the 1 1/4-mile race in 2:04.89 on Woodbine's poly track. Hotep was second with filly Roan Inish taking third in the 13-horse field.
Hotep pressed Big Red Mike at the top of the stretch but didn't have enough to overtake him as he pulled away for a comfortable length victory.
"He was very, very relaxed," Rosa da Silva said. "Even during the race I tried to talk to him and say, 'Baby, relax, relax my friend, relax, relax.' When Hotep came and started to press me I had a lot of horse.
"When I turned home I had a lot of horse and he gave that kick and it was home, baby."
It marked the second straight race that Big Red Mike — a gelding owned by Terra Racing Stable — has won wire-to-wire. He captured the Plate Trial on June 13, leading virtually every step of the way after holding off a stretch challenge from Mobilizer for the half-length victory.
Big Red Mike becomes the 25th Plate Trial winner to win the Plate and the third consecutive horse to do so, following Not Bourbon (2008) and Eye of the Leopard (2009). He earned his third career victory to boost his earnings to more than $660,000 and maintain a perfect record of finishing in the money through six career starts (three wins, two seconds and a third).
Rosa da Silva said it didn't hurt that Big Red Mike saw plenty of cameras focused on his every move down the stretch.
"I'm very glad to have a lot of cameras because he keep looking and he relaxed more when he saw the people," the winning jockey said.
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, included: Giant's Tomb, Mobthewarrior, Dark Cloud Dancer, Smart Sky, Moment of Majesty, Who We Gunna Call, Mobilizer, Ghost Fleet, Vicar Street and D's Wando.
Big Red Mike paid $12, $6.30 and $4.40 while Hotep returned $6.90 and $4.70. Roan Inish paid $4.30.
Big Red Mike thwarted trainer Roger Attfield's attempt for a record ninth Plate victory with Mobilizer. The Stronach Stables' homebred is a son of 2005 Epsom Derby winner Motivator, currently standing at The Royal Studs at Sandringham, Norfolk, in England, a facility owned by the Queen, who is also one of the members of the Motivator stallion syndicate.
The second leg of the Triple Crown is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, a 1 3/16-mile race run July 25 at Fort Erie Racetrack in Fort Erie, Ont. The final event is the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf competition Aug. 15 at Woodbine.
Gonzalez left no doubt about whether Big Red Mike would be in the starter's gate at Fort Erie.
"I'm a Fort Erie boy and they told they're going crazy in the grandstand there," he said. "That's where Mike got his early training when he came to Fort Erie in the early stages of his career so it'll be like a kid going home."
There have been seven Triple Crown winners since the concept was inaugurated in 1959, the last being Wando in 2003.