Queen's Plate can be beginning or end

For some, winning the Queen's Plate is the start of something big. For others, it's the last stop on a good ride, writes Malcolm Kelly.

Start of something big or end of a good ride for horses

Owner Vern Dubinsky, right, and trainer Josie Carroll, left, lead horse Inglorious and jockey Luis Contreras after winning the 152nd running of the Queen's Plate in 2011. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Like many ladies of great breeding and elegance, it’s best not to visit Inglorious without bringing a gift along.

So it is that trainer Josie Carroll cuts back into her Barn 39 office at Woodbine Racetrack, opens a large plastic container on the desk and scoops out a half dozen Scotch mints as an offering to one of her most famous clients.

"Better not forget this … she won’t be happy," says Carroll.

Around a corner, (careful not to get on the wrong side, that’s the right side, of the horses being hot walked in the barn), and there is "Glory", still all pretty bay, head high, ears up, pawing at the stall floor as she always has, and hoping for more offerings from her public.

This is, actually, the last week at Woodbine for Inglorious, the 2011 Queen’s Plate winner.

After a scheduled promenade at the Thursday morning breakfast draw for this year’s event (Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBC and for old times sake, she’ll be literally going out to pasture for the summer and fall while a list of eligible suitors is put together for conjugal visits starting next spring.

There’s lots to remember, because on that June day, two years back, the Donver Stables filly took jockey Luis Contreras on a wild ride right up the middle of the pack as she kicked the bejeesus out of the boys down the straight.

A $600,000 ride, it was. But it’s what happened to Inglorious afterwards that helps tell the tale of where Queen’s Plate winners can go from there.

For some, it’s the start of something big. For others, it’s the end of a good ride.

Impressive start

Josie Carroll and Inglorious at Woodbine before the Queen's Plate winner goes into retirement. (Barbara A. Kelly)

Inglorious began her career in spectacular fashion, winning twice as a late-starting juvenile in 2010, and then placing in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (a Grade 3) at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana, followed by a competitive fourth in the Fair Grounds Oaks (Grade 2).

Back home, Glory flew through the La Lorgnette Stakes in May of 2011, and was an impressive winner at the Woodbine Oaks in early June. After the Queen’s Plate victory, it was decision time for owners Vern and Donna Dubinsky, and the trainer.

"We wanted to take a step up for the filly and go to the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga (N.Y.)," says Carroll, and it made sense, because the real money outside of the Plate itself is in the U.S., running in stakes races.

Glory was awful in the Grade 1 event. Sixth of six, and badly behind as Royal Delta romped.

"She ran, really, the only bad race of her life, at Saratoga," said Carroll, replaying it this week. "She struggled with the surface [dirt, as opposed to the Polytrack at Woodbine], she never got comfortable and floundered, and came back quite distressed and frustrated."

Queen's Plate aftermath

Here’s a look at how some of the recent Queen’s Plate winners have fared since taking the big race (stats from Equibase).

  • Strait of Dover (2012) won $749,628 US as a three year old. He had a soft-tissue injury training for the Breeders Stakes a few weeks later and is now scheduled for a late summer return.
  • Big Red Mike (2010). The beautiful chestnut gelding won $740,640 in his Plate year, but only $10,502 in 2011 and a decent $56,112 in four 2012 starts, including one win. He’s now retired.
  • Eye of the Leopard (2009). Ol’ Lumpy, the gelding with the great pedigree, is still at it in his sixth year. Since the Plate win, he’s added a solid $226,167 in winnings.
  • Not Bourbon (2008). Roger Attfield’s last winner, suffered a flipped palate in his next race, the Prince of Wales, missed a year, made four starts for a win and $60,000 and then retired to stud. His juveniles are just coming through now.
  • Mike Fox (2007) carried Emma-Jayne Wilson to her Plate victory. His great three-year-old campaign was followed by eight starts over the next three years for about $63,000.
  • Edenwold (2006). He raced three times the year following the Plate for no results. Now retired to stud in New Zealand. 

Up to that point, the goal for everyone had been the Breeder’s Cup in the fall, horse racing’s Super Bowl. Instead, Inglorious came home and finished a good third in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes

It was time to winter, after earning $1.129-million US, good for 19th in the Equibase Top-100 that year.

Enter 2012, when Inglorious would be switched to the turf for a possible Breeder’s run on that surface. It worked out alright (2nd, 4th, 3rd), but Glory was somewhat beaten up and needed a rest.

"She was very jarred up and had taken a couple of bad steps [on the turf]," said Carroll. "There was nothing diagnostically unsound."

Inglorious went to the beautiful Fair Hill Training Centre, in Maryland, to work with Bobby Triola for a five month "holiday" of turnouts, therapy and recuperation. It seemed just the ticket as a strong third at Hollywood Park in Florida in a December Grade 2 was followed by another at Gulfstream in February.

But Glory was ready to retire, she just hadn’t told anybody yet. A sixth at Keeneland in April and a seventh at Woodbine in the Trillium Stake in June, and that was it.

"It was obvious she wasn’t handling it anymore," said Carroll. "But, she had such an extraordinary career."

In total, Inglorious won just $95,719 as a four-year-old, and $18,471 at five. She’ll do far, far better than that dropping foals in the future, and living a life in the fields.

Health is key

Hall of Famer Roger Attfield has seen everything in his 38 years training at Woodbine, having sent out eight Queen’s Plate winners, tied for best-ever with Harry Giddings.

There are, he says, a myriad of reasons why some horses go on to good careers after the Plate, and other don't, headed by physical problems. 

"And there are horses that have won that race in some years that didn’t go on and do much after, that’s just a question that the race wasn’t as strong as some other years and that horse was lucky on that day and got the trip.

"I’ve seen a few of those."

Basically, he believes if a horse is healthy and properly managed, a Queen’s Plate win should be the start of a career. Especially since Attfield has always believed a horse doesn’t really hit their prime until they are four.

That’s when they mature physically and become mentally sound.

It’s the three-year-old year, however, where so much big money is focussed. Add the Queen’s Plate is right in the middle of the schedule, and there is a lot of attention paid to that time right after the big victory.

With Approval is a case in point.

Winner of Canada’s Triple Crown in 1989 (Queen’s Plate, Prince of Wales, Breeders Stakes) With Approval went on to true brilliance. He took three major stakes races in the U.S. at four and was just nipped at the line in both the prestigious Breeders’ Crown and the Arlington Million.

A star turn by any measure.

Few Plate winners have been that brilliant, but there have been a number with good results afterwards. And others that don’t have it.

For that moment in time, however, any horse can be something special.

"There has been many a Queen’s Plate winner that was just a nice horse and ran his best race on that day," said Attfield. "Maybe the going suited him better on that day than some, or he got a better trip, or he was an out and out stayer and others weren’t.

"That’s what’s so special about a race like that because every Canadians’ dream is to win that race."

Special one

Inglorious was not a one and done, by any means. She had put together the type of career before the Plate that allowed her to go off as one of the favourites on her day.

Josie Carroll, who had already won once with Edenwold in 2006, will always have that moment when a pretty bay surged through the boys and pounded them into submission.

"It gives you goose bumps. The thing about a race like that, it’s a pure moment in sports. It’s not business, or gambling. A pure moment in sport when you watch a great athlete put in the game of her life."

As for Inglorious herself, well, give that lady a well-deserved Scotch mint.