The lone speed horse in the race turned out to be the best horse in the $1-million Queen’s Plate.
Midnight Aria, the busiest of the 12 entries this season (eighth race), burst from the No. 1 inside gate into the lead and held it for the full mile-and-a-quarter to win the 154th running of Canada’s richest horserace, Sunday afternoon at a wet Woodbine Racetrack.
Betting favourite Up With the Birds put on a wild late stretch run but ran out of track at the line.
On a day that produced heavy afternoon rains and an average pace, jockey Jesse Campbell ran a smart race, keeping Midnight Aria in front down the backstretch while allowing his pursuers to come back into the picture.
Near the end of the backstretch, Campbell asked for more and his Nick Gonzalez trained mount gave it to him by keeping the lead around the final turn into the last two furlongs (440 yards).
By that point, only Up With the Birds among the other 11 starters had enough to put on a run against the decelerating Midnight Aria, and Eurico Rosa da Silva almost pulled it off. The winner crossed in a reasonable 2:04.72.
Dynamic Sky, winner of the Plate Trial, was third but never a real threat under famed jockey Joel Rosario. Spring in the Air, the accomplished filly, was fourth under comeback jockey Gary Boulanger.
Midnight Aria paid $35.20 to win, $13 to place and $8 to show.
This was the first Queen’s Plate victory for owner Tucci Stables, and it came with a horse they had claimed for just $35,000. Winning Sunday was worth $600,000 to the victors, $60,000 going to jockey Campbell, who was deeply emotional, especially when it looked like he might just be caught at the wire by Up With the Birds.
"I could hear him … I could feel him … I was praying for a wire [win]," said Campbell, to Renee Kierens, of the CBC broadcast crew as they trotted back down the backstretch to the winner’s circle, where David Johnston, the Governor General, waited with the famous trophy.
"This has been 18 years I’ve been working for this."
Campbell, from a racing family in Wisconson (his twin brother Joel is also a jock), has put in a long career but never hit a big-time stakes win until Sunday. He moved to the Woodbine jockey’s colony full-time in 2011 and has quickly become a popular addition.
"I’ve like this place since I got here," he said. "I got here two weeks before my agent and my wife, and told them to hurry up and get here because I just fell in love with this place.
"I saw the opportunity coming from the States to here, and it’s been a blessing."
Most disappointed on the day, again, had to be trainer Mark Casse who put four mounts into the race in an attempt to finally win his first Queen’s Plate.
His Dynamic Sky was third, Spring in the Air fourth, Jagger M fifth and Kaigun ninth. Nipissing, the second favourite, finished eighth.
Midnight Aria’s owners now have to decide whether to run the second jewel of Canada’s Triple Crown (last won by Wando in 2001), July 30 at Ontario’s Fort Erie Racetrack, on the dirt.
Given this horse’s skill on the turf (used for the third jewel, the Breeders, on Aug. 18 back at Woodbine), if Aria is sound, he’ll likely go for the triple.