While most of the horses for Sunday's 150th running of the Queen's Plate were paraded out for media and guests at the annual lunch on Monday, El Brujo was left to sleep in barn 39 at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack.
The three-year-old was not being punished by trainer Malcolm Pierce, but merely kept on his regular day-off schedule as he prepares for a shot at redemption.
That would be a chance to make up for going out as the 8-5 favourite in the Plate Trial on May 31 and finishing ninth as Eye of the Leopard eked out a victory.
The talk on Monday was no longer about the bay gelding, but instead about four other contenders who are the favourites in the million-dollar Gallop for the Guineas.
- Eye of the Leopard, trained by Mark Frostad and ridden by Eurico Rosa Da Silva, who won the Plate Trial in just his third career start, all this season.
- Filly Tasty Temptation, conditioned by Mark Casse and ridden by Patrick Husbands, who had a terrible start in the Woodbine Oaks on June 7 before just falling short in a sustained rally. A lot of the punters like her to become the first filly since Dancethruthedawn to win the race since 2001.
- Milwaukee Appeal, another filly, who won the Oaks in fine fashion to give her five wins in nine outings. Owner CEC Farms will have to pony up $25,000 for a late entry to the Queen's Plate, but that's believed to be in the cards for trainer Scott Fairlie and veteran rider Stewart Elliott. She's gone at least a mile and a sixteenth four times so should have the distance in her.
- Mr. Foricos Two U, a Catherine Day Phillips-trained chestnut gelding who has won two straight and been in the money three times in four races. He'll have star jockey Mike Smith in town for the ride.
By no means is Pierce ready to give up on his formerly well-thought-of mount, despite whispers among some jockeys El Brujo might not have it in him to go a mile and a quarter.
"[The Plate Trial] was screwed up from the time I told Patrick [Husbands] in the paddock that today was the day to take this horse back and teach him how to rate [come off the pace from behind]," said Pierce, at the time. "I thought there would be a little more pace. Absolutely no pace developed."
On Monday, Pierce was optimistic about Sunday's Plate.
"I'm throwing that race out," he said of May 31. "He has come back fine from it, which is a good thing … he came out of the race in good order and like I say, I'd have to throw it out and start from scratch again."
That will happen with a different but familiar jockey.
Husbands, who didn't seem at all happy with his race on El Brujo, has elected to ride Tasty Temptation on Sunday, continuing a long relationship with trainer Casse. That left Pierce with Emma-Jayne Wilson up — hardly a huge step back even though Husbands is Woodbine's leading jockey.
Wilson, who became the first female rider to win the Queen's Plate with Mike Fox in 2007, rode El Brujo all through his two-year-old year but was taken off because Pierce felt Husbands, who rode this winter in the United States while Wilson took some time away, was sharper at the start of the spring season.
In 2008, El Brujo was in the money in all six of his races, including two wins, three places and a show. Wilson does not see one bad outing as having any real effect on her horse's demeanour coming into the biggest day of his life.
"I don't think so," she said. "We teach these horses every day … and we try to teach them to win and we try to teach them to do the things that are going to be productive for each particular race."
Taking him back to the front again on Sunday, rather than hanging back, won't be a problem either, if that works out to be the tactics used.
"If you have a good horse, they will listen to you despite positioning," Wilson said. "Good horses do good things so they will communicate with the rider and listen to the rider and what the rider is asking them."
It's a smaller field than normal for the Queen's Plate — 14 on the list right now as opposed to 17 or 18.