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It is the oldest classic race in England and, arguably, the most prestigious.

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The English St Leger Stakes is the classic that marks the end of the British flat racing season and its prestige is such that a “St. Leger copy” has been woven into racing calendars in Ireland, Jamaica, Australia and the United States. This classic takes place in Doncaster, Yorkshire, a large town that was initially settled on the site of a Roman fort, Danum, in the first century B.C., maturing into a busy town by the 13th century. Near enough to larger cities to make travel there feasible by horse, Doncaster was (and remains) a market, or “mercat” town, with a thriving commerce designated, like all such towns in England, by its market cross. From about the 15th century, Doncaster was known as a prosperous area, populated by the wealthy who lived in estates like Cantley Hall and Brodsworth Hall.

The market cross, designating Doncaster as a market town where goods of all kinds and livestock were sold for centuries, stands to this day on the site of the original market.

The market cross, designating Doncaster as a market town where goods of all kinds and livestock were sold for centuries, stands to this day on the site of the original market.

 

Doncaster market in 1906.

Doncaster market in 1906.

 

Doncaster market today.

Doncaster market today.

Doncaster is one of the oldest centres for horse racing in Britain, with records of regular race meetings going back to the 16th century. In 1600 there was an attempt to put an end to the races because of the number of ruffians they attracted, but by 1614 failure to do so was acknowledged and a proper racecourse was duly marked out. The Doncaster Cup, the city’s oldest classic race, was first run on Cantley Common in 1766; by 1776, the Doncaster racecourse as we know it today was set up in its permanent home, the Town Moor.

Doncaster racecourse as it looked in the 18th century.

Doncaster racecourse as it looked in the 18th century.

 

Doncaster racecourse circa 1900...

Doncaster racecourse circa 1900…

 

...and today.

…and today.

The original St. Leger kicked off in 1776 and, with only one exception, has run annually in September ever since.

This year, the field for the 2016 St. Leger is dominated by Coolmore-Ballydoyle’s colt, Idaho, although it won’t be any cake-walk for the promising son of Galileo. Open to 3 year-old fillies and colts (and barred to geldings) the St. Leger remains a gruelling test of stamina in a sport that more and more bows to the “speed gene.” It is the third and last leg of the British Triple Crown, the first two being the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. Unlike the practice in North America, the British Triple Crown races are spaced further apart, taking place over a period of roughly 3 months. Interestingly, to sweep the British Triple for fillies, contenders must also win the St. Leger.

But there is at least one powerful reason that the incomparable Nijinsky stands as the UK’s last Triple Crown winner: the crucible of the St. Leger. Run originally at 2 miles, it is slightly shorter today at 1 mile, 6f, 132 yds, making it about 2f longer than the Belmont Stakes. It is a race for “stayers” not speedballs and, as you might well expect, has long been an indicator of prime bloodstock in the form of great sires and mares whose influence on the breed would be a lasting one.

Some rare footage of Nijinsky’s St. Leger win, showing owner Charles Englehardt and the colt’s trainer, the legendary Vincent O’Brien. O’Brien would later say that illness prior to the race, coupled with the toll on Nijinsky of the St. Leger, would cost the champion a win in the Arc a month later. (Apologies for the buzz on the tape.)

 

The brilliance of Northern Dancer’s most celebrated son, “…cruising up on the outside as smooth as silk…” provided by BCS TV and Steve Mellish, together with a look at why it took another 42 years for a thoroughbred to come along who would try to clinch the Triple again. That colt was Camelot:

But Camelot would go down to defeat, leaving Nijinsky’s 1970 triumph to stand as the outstanding achievement it quite rightly was then, and now. The rarity of any colt or filly today who is up to the Triple Crown challenge is not only a matter of breeding for speed. Many British trainers prefer to bypass the St. Leger, in favour of running in the “sexier,” because more glamorous, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe or the Breeders’ Cup Turf Classic.

Although the first St. Leger was run as a nameless race — won by a nameless filly who was later christened Allabaculia, owned by the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham  — it would become the crowning achievement for many great blood horses whose names we still recognize today and whose bloodlines shaped the modern thoroughbred: Touchstone, The Flying Dutchman, Voltigeur, Newminster, Stockwell, West Australian (first winner of the British Triple Crown), Ormonde, Rock Sand (10th Triple Crown winner and BM sire of Man O’ War)), La Flèche, Isinglass, Persimmon, Swinford, Tracery, Hyperion, Bahram, Tulyar and the smashing fillies Sceptre, Pretty Polly and Oh So Sharp, trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil for Sheikh Mohammed and ridden by legendary Steve Cauthen. With her win in the St. Leger, Oh So Sharp swept the British Triple Crown for fillies, having already annexed the 1000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks.

 

The mighty OH SO SHARP was a daughter of KRIS. As Steve Cauthen would say on retirement, she was the best filly he ever rode.

The mighty OH SO SHARP was a daughter of KRIS. As Steve Cauthen would say on retirement, she was the best filly he ever rode. Pictured with Cauthen aboard going down to the start of the St. Leger, which she won.

 

In 1778 the St. Leger was given its name and a change of venue. According to British historian Michael Church, “…At a dinner party held at the Red Lion Inn, Doncaster that year, the Marquis of Rockingham proposed the race be called the St Leger’s Stakes as a compliment to the popular local sportsman Lt-Gen. Anthony St Leger of Park Hill. The venue was then changed to Town Moor, Doncaster and the race run on Tuesday, 22 September 1778.”

The term St. Leger Stakes was originally understood to refer to a multiple of races, including the prestigious Doncaster Gold Cup that brought champions like Kincsem to England. Preceding the St. Leger by a decade, it was still to see the (Doncaster) Gold Cup that brought racegoers out when St. Leger Stakes day came into being.  Run over a distance of 2 miles, 2f, the (Doncaster) Gold Cup is another massive test of endurance. In 2014 when HM The Queen’s mare, Estimate, won it as a 5 year-old, there could be little doubt of her stamina. In this, we hearken back to a time when stamina was the true test of a great thoroughbred and both colts and fillies were really pushed to show it, and to show it consistently. Keep in mind that up until the late 19th century, most flat races in the British Isles were run in heats and a thoroughbred with no serious staying power wouldn’t have managed well at all. Those that did were retired to the breeding shed, thus assuring results that we see today in individuals like Galileo, Frankel, Goldikova, St. Nicholas Abbey, Ouija Board, Midday and their exceptional peers.

Since 1778, the first year it was run under this name, the St. Leger has frequently taken place in different locales. From 1915 to 1918, it was held at Newmarket, where it was known as the September Stakes. The St. Leger was cancelled only once in 230 years, in 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, and this cost the brilliant Blue Peter his chance to snare the Triple Crown. It resumed the following year, but changed courses annually throughout the war years. In 1940, the race was held at Thirsk, moving to Manchester in 1941. It was then held at Newmarket for three years (1942 to 1944) before moving to York in 1945. Most recently, in 2006, the race was again held at York, since the Doncaster racecourse was undergoing renovations.

But regardless of where it was held, papers like The Tatler, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Bailey’s News and The Illustrated London News considered the winners of the St. Leger and the (Doncaster) Gold Cup a lead story. In the pre-photography days, this meant deploying at least one “on the scene” artist who could render the atmosphere at Doncaster, as well as the winners. And notable artists like John Frederick Herring Jr., as well as prominent photographers like W.A. Roach lined up to record images of the day’s winners.

PRETTY POLLY shown winning the St. Leger.

PRETTY POLLY shown winning the St. Leger.

PETRARCH, another St. Leger winner.

PETRARCH, another St. Leger winner.

The dramatic clash between LADAS and the filly makes the cover of The London Illustrated News.

The dramatic clash between LADAS and the filly THROSTLE in the 1894 St. Leger makes the cover of The London Illustrated News.The filly, a daughter of PETRARCH (shown above) won.

 

Just imagine what it must have been like on the day: ladies in their finery, horses and carriages lined up row-on-row, gentlemen gathering in the walking ring and huddling in the stands, baskets laden with food and drink, punters before their chalkboards and boys swooping through the bettors to gather money and give out chits, hundreds of pairs of binoculars raised in one deft stroke at the start, the roaring of thousands gathered on the ground as the field turned for home. St. Leger Stakes Day had to be quite the spectacle.

Today, the dowager races of the British flat season may have lost some of their glitter, but to top trainers and thoroughbred people they remain steeped in an undeniable history and tradition of greatness.

HARZAND digs deep to repel IDAHO (outside) in the Irish Derby.

HARZAND digs deep to repel IDAHO (outside) in the Irish Derby.

Saturday, September 10, Aidan O’Brien’s Idaho (Galileo) will enter the fray to vie for his chance to join the exclusive ranks of St. Leger winners. The colt won The Great Voltigeur (at York) last time out, considered the favoured prep race for the St. Leger and will likely have a rabbit in the form of the very good Housesofparliament (Galileo), whom he just beat out in the Voltigeur. (Below, article with short video of Idaho winning the Great Voltigeur from Housesofparliament.)

http://www.racinguk.com/news/article/45123/idaho-leads-home-aidan-obrien-one-two-in-great-voltigeur-stakes-at-york

The other Ballydoyle entry is Sword Fighter, completing a treble of Galileo’s for trainer Aidan O’Brien. Good as Idaho’s credentials are, it is worth noting that O’Brien’s previous 4 St. Leger winners have come from the deceased Montjeu and Sadler’s Wells. However, Camelot came very close in 2012, and Bondi Beach, another Galileo, was held to second place after an inquiry resulting from the bumping of winner Simple Verse last year. So it would appear that there’s nothing to stop a good Galileo from getting the distance — whether it be Idaho, Sword Fighter or Housesofparliament — especially in what looks like a rather ho-hum field.

Should IDAHO, HOUSESOFPARLIAMENT or SWORD FIGHTER bring home the St. Leger, it will be a first for mega-sire GALILEO

Should either IDAHO, HOUSESOFPARLIAMENT or SWORD FIGHTER bring it home, they will be the first St. Leger winner for their mega-sire GALILEO.

Handicapping a race for stayers can be tough in today’s racing world. Such an individual may well handle the distance by laying off the pace most of the way and an entry whose done poorly over a shorter distance might come up roses in a contest like the St. Leger. So Paul Hanagan’s Muntahaa (Dansili out of a Linamix mare), a big colt who will love the distance if he’s going to get into gear, should be taken seriously. Another aspect in Muntahaa’s favour is that he’s handy on good-to-soft turf: rain is currently in the forecast for Saturday. Flying under the radar at the moment is Richard Hannon’s Ventura Storm (Zoffany out of a Haafhd mare/Northern Dancer through Unfuwain), another who will cope with rain and has a very good record of 5 wins in 10 starts. Harrison is still another colt no-one is paying much attention to, but it must be said that his sire, Sixties Icon, won the St. Leger and his dam is by Invincible Spirit. In addition, Harrison ran 4th to Idaho last time out and although he hasn’t seen the winners’ circle yet this season, the St. Leger might be a much better distance for him.

The others: The Tartan Unit is lightly raced, loves soft ground and comes from the Storm Cat line through Catienus; Ormito, trained by Andrew Balding, has the benefit of a great pedigree in his BM sire Acatenango (the BM sire of Animal Kingdom); and Harbour Law doesn’t look to have the pedigree to be a strong contender.

There will be some serious competition on St. Leger Saturday from the Irish Champions’ series which is also on that day, so much so that Ballydoyle’s Ryan Moore will stay in Ireland with Seamie Heffernan getting the call to pilot Idaho at Doncaster. It’s not the first time that the St. Leger has been pinched for viewers’ attention.

But it’s impossible to imagine that this venerable race, taking place over the ground where Romans marched and where thoroughbred legends like The Tetrarch raced to victory in the 1913 Champagne Stakes, has any serious equal on September 10.

THE TETRARCH.

THE TETRARCH, a racing immortal, danced across the Doncaster turf in 1913. Through his daughters, he lives on and has brought us the likes of MAHMOUD, NEARCO, NASRULLAH, BOLD RULER, NORTHERN DANCER, FRANKEL and AMERICAN PHAROAH.

 

 

Sources

Church, Michael. The Origins of the St. Leger and the one running missed! Published on his blog, Michael Church Racing Books.

The National Racing Museum, Newmarket, UK

Racing Post: Race card for the St. Leger (Sept 10, 2016)

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Royal Ascot is about to open and in 2014 will host a veritable who’s-who of the British and European turf. An exciting twist for American racing fans is provided by the entry of Rosalind, trained by Kenny McPeek, in either the Ribblesdale Stakes on June 19 or the Coronation Stakes on Friday, June 20.  In addition, Verrazano, now in training with Aidan O’Brien, will be starting in either the Queen Anne (June 17) or the Prince of Wales (June 18) Stakes. 

ROSALIND, trained by Kenny McPeek, is set to make her UK debut in the Coronation Stakes on June 20.

ROSALIND is set to make her UK debut in either the Ribblesdale or the Coronation Stakes. Both of these races are designed for fillies.

Impossible as it is to focus on every horse entered at Royal Ascot, there are several who have become familiar names to racing fans worldwide. Keeping our readership and their needs in mind, we have focused on a few of the star-studded cast who will assemble at Royal Ascot next week. At the time of this writing, the fields were still not quite set and since several of the entries described below remain co-entered in two different races, readers are encouraged to go to the Racing Post site for Royal Ascot to check the racing cards early next week: http://royal-ascot.racingpost.com/horses/cards/

TREVE

Arc winner, Treve, is set to kick off in the Prince of Wales Stakes on Wednesday, June 18 in what will be her first start on British soil. Last seen in neck-to-neck combat with the outstanding Cirrus des Aigles in April at Longchamps in the Prix Ganay (below), which Treve lost by a whisker in her first-ever defeat, trainer Cricket Head-Maarek’s champion seems ready to add another jewel to her crown next week.

As satisfying as it will be for Head-Maarek to see her great mare return to the winner’s circle at Ascot, the Prince of Wales is thought to be a prep race for Treve who’s real objective is likely to be the 1 million purse in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in July, where it is very possible that she will meet up with Derby winner, Australia. From there, if all goes well, Treve will defend her title in the 2015 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. If anyone can get her through this arduous campaign it is Head-Maarek, a trainer of no small merit who hails from the family of Freddie Head, trainer of the brilliant Goldikova. Here is Treve in-training prior to the Prix Ganay, with commentary from the distinguished jockey, Frankie Dettori, who has ridden some of the greatest thoroughbreds of the last twenty years.

The Prince of Wales is shaping up to be a solid race including Aidan O’Brien’s 2013 Epsom Derby winner, Ruler of the World, John Gosden’s globetrotting mare, The Fugue, the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram, second in last year’s Dubai World Cup, and Dank, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, last seen by North America in her record-setting run in the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November 2013 (below). (NOTE: Ruler of the World is co-entered in the Hardwicke Stakes, Saturday, June 21st. Check on Monday, June 16 to see where he is going.)

Of particular interest to American racing fans will be the entry of Verrazano, last year’s winner of the Wood Memorial, who is now being trained by Aidan O’Brien. O’Brien reports that he is pleased with Verrazano’s progress to date. The 4 year-old made his first start for O’Brien at Newberry in May, where he finished a very respectable third to champion Olympic Glory in the JLT Lockinge Stakes (below). (NOTE: Verrazano is co-entered in the Queen Anne Stakes which will run on Tuesday, June 17. Verrazano fans should check at on the weekend or Monday, June 16 when the entries should be finalized for June 17.)

SOFT FALLING RAIN & OLYMPIC GLORY

Mike de Kock’s Soft Falling Rain is getting set to take on Olympic Glory in the Queen Anne Stakes, on the first day of racing (June 17th) at Royal Ascot. The last time he tried this on Ascot turf, Soft Falling Rain ran the worst race of his distinguished career, coming in 11th behind the winner (Olympic Glory). But don’t be fooled: Mike de Kock’s champion has only ever finished out of the money twice in his 12 starts, winning 8. A son of Canada’s National Assembly, a champion sire in South Africa who was trained by Vincent O’Brien but never raced due to injury, Soft Falling Rain is a grandson of the prepotent Danzig and Giant’s Causeway is his BM sire. So this 5 year-old is “bred in the purple” and always gives his best. His last start was in March in the Godolphin Mile, where he narrowly lost out to stablemate Variety Club:

Olympic Glory (shown in video above in connection with Verrazano) is another champion who has won very consistently over 13 career starts for trainer, Richard Hannon. A son of Choisir, the first Australian-trained horse to win at Royal Ascot (2003) who became almost as famous for his weird headgear, Olympic Glory carries “the Danehill gene” that never seems to disappoint. Accordingly, the colt has won seven times in France and England, and was seen last year at Royal Ascot winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (below).  Despite coming in 4th at Longchamps to the mighty Cirrus des Aigles, expect Olympic Glory to be well in the mix on opening day.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. A handsome devil, CHOISIR was as memorable for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. CHOISIR was as famous for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.

ESTIMATE

Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of last year’s Royal Ascot was the delight of HM The Queen as she greeted her filly, Estimate, in the winner’s enclosure after the Gold Cup.

Estimate was the product of an arrangement involving her dam, Ebaziya, owned by the Aga Khan Studs and HM’s Royal Stud. The latter sent Ebaziya to the super German stallion, Monsun (sire of Novellist, Shirocco and Stacelita, among others) and the result was a beautiful mare who has done her 88 year-old owner-breeder proud. Although lightly raced, the 5 year-old has won 4 of her 8 starts. Given HM’s passion for thoroughbred racing, it would be a thrill to see Estimate defend her title with another win in the 2m 4f Gold Cup on June 19. But she will have to be at her absolute best to vanquish her competition.

It’s a fair guess that Aidan O’Brien’s Leading Light will push Estimate to the limit if he can get the distance. Successful at Navan in May, the son of Montjeu has only lost twice in 8 starts. Out of the Gone West mare, Dance Parade, Leading Light was the brilliant winner of the St. Leger last year as a 3 year-old, and at Royal Ascot 2013 showed true grit in winning the Queen’s Vase.

A sentimental favourite is the hardy Simenon, whose problem won’t be the distance. Rather, it will be his age. At seven, with 38 starts under his belt, Simenon may be getting past his best but he’s one of the most honest horses in the race. Too, there is Richard Baldwin’s Whiplash Willie, who ran a very decent third at Sandown last time out to the favourite, Brown Panther.

CERTIFY

Certify was brilliant as a juvenile at 2 and as a 3 year-old, but her career was cut in half by the drug scandal that beset Godolphin’s trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni in 2013. Certify returned in 2014 where she won her first race, followed by a fourth at Meydan in what was her first ever defeat. Her story is a heart-breaker because the daughter of Elusive Quality is Frankel-esque in her abilities and bringing her back to form after an enforced break of 469 days is a challenge of epic proportions. Switched to trainer Charlie Appleby, Certify is listed to run against fillies and mares in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes on Wednesday, June 18. One can only hope to see her regain the brilliance of her 2012 season. Either way, she is a superstar gracing the turf of champions. Here is Certify winning the Shadwell Fillies Mile in 2012, followed by her win in the Cape Verdi at Meydan in January 2014:

 

BROWN PANTHER

Another serious contender for the Gold Cup will be Ted Dascombe’s Brown Panther, a son of Shirocco and grandson of Monsun. As of this writing, Brown Panther has won his last two races decisively and with 20 starts and 9 wins under his belt, appears to be peaking at just the right moment. The Dascombe-trained 6 year-old is currently listed as the favourite going in to Royal Ascot week, given that his last win came at the Gold Cup distance over a soggy track at Sandown. Although it has taken him some time to get there, Brown Panther deserves the attention he’s getting.

Bred by his owner, Michael Owen, a British and international soccer (football in the UK) star who now does football commentary for the British media, Brown Panther represents the zenith of his owner’s career in horse racing. And he’s come along very nicely under Ted Dascombe’s patient tutelage, since his male family have a tendency to come into their own rather slowly by today’s standards and Dascombe understands this.

As footage of his most recent win at Sandown was not available, here is Brown Panther (turquoise shirt) winning the Artemis Goodwood Cup at Glorious Goodwood a year ago, where he beat the likes of Colour Vision soundly.  By all accounts, he’s an even better distance runner this year.

ROSALIND

America’s Rosalind will have her work cut out for her, making her first start on grass at Royal Ascot in either the Ribblesdale (June 19) or the Coronation Stakes (June 20). Either way, she will be in heady company, including a contingent from Ballydoyle that includes Wonderfully, John Gosden’s Criteria, Roger Varian’s excellent Sea The Stars filly, Anipa, Godolphin’s Ihtimal, John Oxx’s talented filly My Titania (another by Sea The Stars), Andre Fabre’s Miss France, together with lightly-raced fillies like Wonderstruck, Dermot Weld’s Edelmira or William Haggas’ Cape Cross filly, Token of Love.

Still, Rosalind will have a huge fan following from America, where she is a favourite and they will be rooting for her all the way. The daughter of Broken Vow whose BM sire is Theatrical has several excellent grass runners in her pedigree, including Britain’s last Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II, as well as Sassafras and Nureyev, who was born and raced in France where he got Champion 3 year-old honours. Her owners, Landaluce Educe Stables and trainer, Kenny McPeek have little reason to doubt either her quality or her determination. Having only finished out of the money twice in 8 starts, Rosalind is shown here in a gutsy win over Room Service in April at Keeneland:

WAR COMMAND, KINGMAN & NIGHT OF THUNDER

It would be fair to say that next to the emotion of HM’s Estimate taking the Gold Cup, last year’s Royal Ascot was punctuated by the thrill of 2 year-old War Command’s victory. As his white-blazed faced streaked across the finish line his sire’s (War Front) reputation grew even more in the minds of British and European thoroughbred owners and breeders. They had to be asking themselves, “Have we got another Northern Dancer on the rise?” since The Dancer really made his legacy through the loyalty of Coolmore-Ballydoyle, specifically Vincent O’Brien, to his progeny. Most of whom proved to be brilliant. Cross-entered in both the prestigious St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) and the Diamond Jubilee (June 21), Coolmore-Ballydoyle will be dreaming of a performance that repeats War Command’s brilliance of almost a year ago:

However, a little-publicized truth (according to Ballydoyle) is that the “War Fronts can be quite lazy” and War Command pulled that card in his most recent outing in May at Newmarket, where he finished a dismal 9th in the 2000 Guineas, failing to pick up the pace when it counted most. If he does this again at Royal Ascot, he’ll likely be pummelled by either the brilliant Night of Thunder or Kingman.

Night of Thunder, a 3 year-old son of Dubawi, is trained by the eminent Richard Hannon. Having won 3 of his 4 lifetime starts, the colt has never been out of the money. More importantly, Night of Thunder is this year’s winner of the Quipco 2000 Guineas, taking it despite hanging out very far as he and jockey Keiron Fallon came to the finish. But he beat War Command, the subsequent Derby winner, Australia, as well as a very good colt in Kingman despite what could have been a disastrous error:

Kingman and Night of Thunder have been challenging each other throughout the season. While Juddmonte’s Kingman lost to his rival in the Quipco 2000 Guineas, he went on to subsequently take the Irish 2000 Guineas in devastating fashion. The son of Invincible Spirit has only ever lost once in his 5 lifetime starts. Accordingly, Prince Khalid Abdullah and trainer John Gosden’s champion has been accorded the status of favourite to take the St. James Palace next week:

SOME PROMINENT AMERICAN SIRES REPRESENTED AT ASCOT 2014 

The War Fronts make up a small army, with newcomers War Envoy and The Great War running in the prestigious Coventry Stakes for 2 year-olds on June 17; Guerre and Due Diligence running on the same day in the King’s Stand; Giovanni Boldini joining War Command in the St. James Palace Stakes; and a filly, Peace and War is running for  Sheikh Suhaim Al Thani/QRL/M Al Kubaisi in the Queen Mary Stakes  (June 18).

Elusive Quality is represented in the St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) by Michaelmas who runs for Ballydoyle; Great White Eagle in the Jersey Stakes for Ballydoyle (June 18); Elusive Guest for John Guest Racing runs in the Jersey Stakes (June 18); and the fabulous mare Certify is due to run in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (June 18) for Godolphin.

Big Brown is represented by the very good colt, Darwin, who runs in the King’s Stand (June 17) for Ballydoyle.

Bluegrass Cat is represented by Biting Bullets who runs for Mrs. Joanna Hughes in another 2 year-old race, the Windsor Castle Stakes (June 17).

Quality Road has a 2 year-old colt, Hootenanny, running in the Windsor Castle Stakes in the colours of Tabor, Magnier and Smith (June 17).

Street Cry has Street Force running in the Jersey Stakes (June 18) for Saeed Mañana.

Dynaformer is represented by Somewhat who runs in the colours of  Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum in the King Edward VII Stakes (June 20).

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NEWS FLASH: Welcome to the new look of THE VAULT! Although we loved the former design, this one offers more space and scope and should make reading and viewing our articles an even more pleasurable experience. Enjoy!

The Queen’s Plate is Canada’s most storied and prestigious thoroughbred race and the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown. It is also the oldest continuously run stakes race in North America. Its history began in 1860, when Queen Victoria gave the race “Royal Assent” and even the most cursory glance into Plate history reveals a palimpsest of great Canadian thoroughbreds and the men and women who left an indelible signature on both the horse and the sport.

There are precious few books about the Queen’s Plate and only a miserly smidgeon of other research sources. Canadians tend to be rather myopic when it comes to their own racing narrative, preferring instead to hitch their sensibilities to the UK, USA or Australia. But the Queen’s Plate stubbornly persists and celebrated its 154th running recently, despite those who view it as a poor cousin to the Kentucky or Epsom Derbies or other prestigious races like the Melbourne Cup. The Queen’s Plate could teach us a good deal about perseverance: after all, it is older than Canada herself, who only became a nation in 1867.

Before taking a summer hiatus from writing to research and ruminate about new subjects for THE VAULT, I thought that I’d end on a note of unabashed national pride and share with our readers a glimpse into a few of Canada’s most distinguished turf characters, all of whom owe the Queen’s Plate for their distinguished place in Canadian thoroughbred history.

THE VAULT will be back again in mid-August with more stories of horse racing past and present.

Until then, my very best wishes to each of you and thank you again for your support, encouragement and fabulous correspondence. Have a lovely summer!

Queen Victoria, as depicted by Sir Edwin Landseer, with her companion, John Brown, inaugurated the Queen's Plate and the tradition of presenting the winner with a pouch from the sovereign, containing 50 guineas.

Queen Victoria, as depicted by Sir Edwin Landseer, inaugurated the Queen’s Plate and the tradition of presenting the winner with a pouch from the sovereign, containing 50 guineas, in 1860. “The Plate” has been run every year since then.

The early years

In 1902, LYDDITE won the QUEEN'S PLATE for owner Nataniel Dymant of Orkney Stud.

In 1902, LYDDITE won the QUEEN’S PLATE for owner William Hendrie, pictured on the right. LYDDITE’S trainer, Edward Whyte, holds the colt. 

Let's Go To The Races! As early as 1910, Old Woodbine was a fashionable place to see and be seen.

Let’s Go To The Races! As early as 1910, Old Woodbine was a fashionable place to see and be seen.

Queen Victoria gave her royal blessing to the inaugural running of the Queen’s Plate in 1860, offering its winner a  “a plate to the value of Fifty Guineas.” The plate itself has long since been replaced by a gold trophy, but the historical connection between the race and the British monarchy remains. The name of each winner of the Queen’s Plate is communicated directly to Britain’s reigning monarch (HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 2013) who, in turn, hand inscribes a note of congratulation that is sent to the owner of the winning horse, together with a purple velvet bag emblazoned with a royal crest and containing 50 British sovereigns.

In its 154 runnings, the Plate has been both a “King’s Plate” (King Edward VII, King Edward VIII and King George VI ) and a “Queen’s Plate” (Queen Victoria and the present Queen, Elizabeth II), since it takes its name from the ruling British monarch of the day. In an annual ritual enacted since the 19th century, the Plate is attended by the Queen’s representative, Canada’s Governor-General, who arrives in a horse-drawn landau that would otherwise be occupied by a British monarch were s/he to be present. And the monarchy has, indeed, graced the Queen’s Plate; although Queen Victoria never managed it, both the present Queen and her father, King George VI have been in attendance. The Queen has been in attendance on several occasions, most recently in 2010.

The parents of Queen Elizabeth II, King George VI and his queen (later known as the Queen Mother) arrive for the 1939 Queen's Plate. (Photo and copyright, City of Toronto, Canada)

The parents of Queen Elizabeth II, King George VI and his Queen (later known as the Queen Mother) arrive for the 1939 Queen’s Plate in a horse-drawn landau reminiscent of the one they would use at Royal Ascot. (Photo and copyright, City of Toronto, Canada)

Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Woodbine on July 4, 2010 for the Queen's Plate, won that year by BIG RED MIKE. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Woodbine on July 4, 2010 for the Queen’s Plate, won that year by BIG RED MIKE. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

BIG RED MIKE moves out of the pack to win the 2010 Queen's Plate. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

BIG RED MIKE moves out of the pack to win the 2010 Queen’s Plate. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

Queen Elizabeth II congratulates the winning jockey, Eurico Rosa Da Silva. (Photo & copyright, The Toronto Star)

Queen Elizabeth II congratulates the winning jockey, Eurico Rosa Da Silva. (Photo & copyright, The Toronto Star)

In the early years, the Queen’s Plate was….well….”colourful,” to say the least. Originally, the Plate was open only to owners who were British subjects living in Ontario and thoroughbreds born in Ontario. As well, entrants  had to be non-winners, although either sex and all ages were permitted. Originally raced in 3 heats, the goings on during each heat prompted any number of stories, from jockeys dumping their weights before the race, to horses having their names altered to deter scrutiny so that a “ringer” (a much better horse, probably not bred in Ontario) might win, to American owners masquerading as Ontario natives. Add that to a boisterous crowd, a race that travelled nomad-fashion all over Ontario until finally settling in Toronto (with Queen Victoria’s approval) and racing etiquette of the time, and you have a Queen’s Plate with all the thrills of a Wild West Show.

The King/Queen's Plate finally settled at Old Woodbine, in the young city of Toronto, in 1883. This photo shows Opening Day at Old Woodbine in 1926.

The King/Queen’s Plate finally settled at Old Woodbine, in the young city of Toronto, in 1883. This photo shows Opening Day at Old Woodbine in 1926.

For our money, the most colourful Queen’s Plate in those early years has to go to the Plate of 1865, won by the 4 year-old LADY NORFOLK (1862):

Run on June 7 at London, Ontario, the first heat was won by STONE PLOVER, owned by a Mr. Harry Chappel, who gave his home as Sandwich, Ontario. But the judges disqualified STONE PLOVER after his winning of the second heat, having discovered that Mr. Chappel was a native of Detroit. Accordingly, the second heat went to a horse called Beacon, who had come in second. However, it was discovered that BEACON’S jockey had pulled the weights assigned to his horse out of the saddle pads and thrown them into the infield before the start of the second heat. So BEACON was disqualified too.

The fillies LADY NORFOLK and NORA CRIENA (who had raced a year earlier under the name “SPRING”) had finished next in the first two heats to the now-disqualified STONE PLOVER and BEACON. Desperate to award the Queen’s Plate to someone, the judges determined that they would be the only two horses invited back for the third, and final, heat. 

NORA CRIENA broke sharply and, although never more than a length ahead of LADY NORFOLK, prevailed. But for reasons no longer recorded, two months after Nora Criena’s victory, the Queen’s Plate was awarded to Lady Norfolk. To this day, no-one has been able to explain why.

INFERNO (1902) a blood-red colt by HAVOC (1892) out of BON INO (1884) was a grandson of HIMYAR (1875) and the SEAGRAM family's first Plate winner.

INFERNO (1902) a blood-red colt by HAVOC (1892) out of BON INO (1884) was a grandson of HIMYAR (1875). He was without question one of the very first Canadian thoroughbred champions, winning just about every carded race in Ontario in his day. His owners, the SEAGRAM family of Seagram distillers fame, won the Plate an astounding 20 times between 1891-1935.

Joseph E. Seagram pictured in 1869 on his mare, BLACK BESS.

Joseph E. Seagram pictured in 1869 on his mare, BLACK BESS.

J.E. Seagram's King's and Queen's Plate winners depicted on the label of Seagram's whiskey.

J.E. Seagram’s King’s and Queen’s Plate winners depicted on the label of Seagram’s whiskey. Seagram’s passion for thoroughbred racing did much to make it an acceptable pastime of the establishment in Canada.

Horses at Old Woodbine gather near the starter's stand, circa

Horses at Old Woodbine gather near the starter’s stand, very early in the 1900’s. (Photo and copyright, the City of Toronto)

Let’s hear it for the girls!

Fillies and mares like NORA CRIENA and LADY OF NORFOLK figured prominently in the winner’s circle of the Plate throughout its long history, long before women were permitted to attend race meetings. In its first century, the Plate was won by fillies or mares some 28 times and, in 1925, when a filly named  FAIRBANK won, the first five finishers were all fillies.

This photo was taken at Old Woodbine in the same year, 1925, that the filly,       won the Plate.

This photo was taken at Old Woodbine in the same year, 1925 that the filly FAIRBANK won the Plate. The first 5 finishers that year were fillies. (photo and copyright, the city of Toronto)

But by the 1940’s colts became dominant in the winner’s circle, at least in part because entry requirements had broadened to include the whole of Canada and narrowed, to specify only 3 year-olds. From 1943-2013, only seven fillies have taken home the 50 sovereigns: Charles Hemstead’s PAOLITA (1940) in 1943; E.P. Taylor’s CANADIANA (1950) in 1953; E.P. Taylor’s FLAMING PAGE (1959) in 1962; Conn Smythe’s (of NHL trophy fame) JAMMED LOVELY (1964) in Canada’s centenary (1967); Ernie Samuels’ DANCE SMARTLY (1988) in 1991; DANCETHRUTHEDAWN(1998), DANCE SMARTLY’S daughter, in 2001; and Donver Stables’ INGLORIOUS (2008) in 2011. And while PAOLITA and CANADIANA won the Plate at a distance of 1 1/8 miles, in 1957 the distance was set at 1 1/4 miles, where it has remained.

Plate-winnning ladies tend to be special for other reasons as well: YOUNG KITTY (1925) , who took the Plate in 1928, won the Coronation Stakes, Clarendon Plate, King’s Plate, Breeders’ Stakes, William Hendrie Memorial Handicap and the Connaught Cup Handicap; CANADIANA retired as the greatest money-winning filly in Canadian racing history and was voted the 1952 Horse of the Year, FLAMING PAGE became the dam of NIJINSKY II and granddam through a daughter, FLEUR, of the Epsom Derby winner, THE MINSTREL. DANCE SMARTLY remains the only filly to ever win a Triple Crown in mixed company in North America and became a Blue Hen producer after her retirement.

Although many of their images have been lost over time, below is an album of those that have survived.

Joseph E. Seagram's YOUNG KITTY, the 1928 winner of the King's Plate.

Joseph E. Seagram’s YOUNG KITTY, the 1928 winner of the King’s Plate.

SALLY FULLER took the QKing's Plate in 1935 for the Seagrams.

SALLY FULLER took the King’s Plate in 1935 for the Seagrams.

PAOLITA, owned by  comes home in the 1943 King's Plate.

PAOLITA, owned by Charles Hemstead, comes home in the 1943 King’s Plate.

With EDDIE ARCARO in the irons, E.P. Taylor's CANADIANA being led in to the winner's circle at Woodbine in 1953.

With EDDIE ARCARO in the irons, E.P. Taylor’s CANADIANA being led in to the winner’s circle at Woodbine in 1953.

Mrs. E.P. Taylor leads in FLAMING PAGE. The daughter of BULL PAGE won the Queen's Plate in

Mrs. E.P. Taylor leads in FLAMING PAGE. The daughter of BULL PAGE won the Queen’s Plate in 1962.

Conn Smythe with JAMMED LOVELY tries to persuade his filly to accept the honours in

Conn Smythe with JAMMED LOVELY tries to persuade his filly to accept the honours in 1967.

the Queen of Canadian racing, DANCE SMARTLY, with Pat Day in the irons speeds home to take the Queen's Plate for owner Ernie Samuels' in

The Queen of Canadian racing, DANCE SMARTLY, with Pat Day in the irons, speeds home to take the Queen’s Plate for owner Ernie Samuels’ in 1991. The daughter of DANZIG would end her 3 year-old season undefeated, winning the Canadian Triple Crown, the Canadian Oaks, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Molson Export Million Stakes among others. Canada crowned her Horse of the Year in 1991 and she would take the honours as well for Champion 3 year-old in both the USA and Canada that same year.

Champion DANCETHRUTHEDAWN, by MR. PROSPECTOR out of DANCE SMARTLY, a brilliant daughter of the Queen of Canadian racing.

Champion DANCETHRUTHEDAWN, by MR. PROSPECTOR out of DANCE SMARTLY. The brilliant daughter of the Queen of Canadian racing became the first filly of the 21st century to win the Queen’s Plate and the second of DANCE SMARTLY’S offspring to win the coveted title. A son, SCATTER THE GOLD, also by MR. PROSPECTOR, would open the 21st century of Canadian racing with his 2000 Queen’s Plate win.

INGLORIOUS becomes the first filly of the 21st century to capture the Queen's Plate in 2011.

In 2011, INGLORIOUS (HENNESSY ex. NOBLE STRIKE by SMART STRIKE) became the second filly of the 21st century to capture the Queen’s Plate for owners Vern and Donna Dubinsky.

Those fabulous colts

And what about the colts?

Well, as you might expect, many Plate winners represented the very best of Canadian thoroughbred bloodlines and training. Among the very best were horses like HOROMETER (1931), BUNTY LAWLESS (1935), KINGARVIE (1943), McGILL (1947), CANADIAN CHAMP (1953), NEW PROVIDENCE (1956), VICTORIA PARK (1957), CANEBORA (1960), KENNEDY ROAD (1968), l’ENJOLEUR (1972) and NORCLIFFE (1973). Of these, EPIC (by Bunty Lawless); McGILL (by Bunty Lawless), CANEBORA (by Canadian Champ) and KENNEDY ROAD (by Victoria Park) were sired by King/Queen’s Plate winners.

By the mid-twentieth century, Edward Plunkett Taylor — commonly known as E.P. Taylor and “Eddie” to his friends — would exercise an indelible influence on the shape of Canadian racing in just about every conceivable way. In fact, Taylor would raise the Canadian thoroughbred to worldwide acclaim when he bred the King of Canadian Racing, NORTHERN DANCER.

E.P. Taylor with his first (King's) Plate winner, EPIC, who won in 1949.

E.P. Taylor with his first (King’s) Plate winner, EPIC (1946), who won in 1949.

In 1947, as the newly appointed director of the Ontario Jockey Club (OJC), E.P. Taylor embarked on a bold plan to bring horse racing in the Toronto area up to the same standards as leading racetracks in North America. Travelling to Hollywood Park in its Golden Era, a plan began to take shape in his head. Acquiring local racetracks (Hamilton, Thorncliffe, Long Branch, Dufferin and Stamford), Taylor began by consolidating their racing charters into three major race venues: Fort Erie, Greenwood (aka “Old Woodbine”) and a to-be-built “New Woodbine.”

Old Woodbine, pictured above, took the name Greenwood when New Woodbine opened.

Old Woodbine, pictured above, took the name Greenwood when (New) Woodbine opened in 1956.

The (New) Woodbine clubhouse bespoke glory days ahead.

The (New) Woodbine clubhouse bespoke glory days ahead.

The sumptuous infield at Woodbine, viewed from the stands.

The sumptuous infield at Woodbine, viewed from the stands.

Woodbine as it looks today.

Woodbine as it looks today.

A year later on June 12, 1956, on 780-acres in the Township of Etobicoke, (New) Woodbine opened. Complete with a one-mile oval dirt track and seven-eighths turf course, Woodbine also featured an infield worthy of the greatest landscaper, complete with ponds and waterfalls. The clubhouse was a feat of modern architecture, streamlined and spacious. Right down to the starting gates, designed with the greatest attention to the safety of horse and jockey alike, Woodbine was the image of what horse racing in Canada could — and should — be. To this day, its Queen’s Plate surface is the safest in any weather of any racetrack in North America.

At the same time, Taylor was dominating the Queen’s Plate, winning it a total of 11 times for his Windfields Farm, making him the second only to J.E. Seagram in the stats of most-winning owners.

Modern Times

Increasingly, Canadian-born 3 year-olds to win the Queen’s Plate reflect the cross-fertilization of American and Canadian bloodstock.

The TEDDY line, through a son of BULL DOG who was acquired by E.P. Taylor and named BULL PAGE, was responsible for Queen’s Plate winners NEW PROVIDENCE and FLAMING PAGE. CHOP CHOP, a grandson of GALLANT FOX and another descendant of the TEDDY line, stood at E.P. Taylor’s National Stud, where he sired VICTORIA PARK  and was Canada’s leading sire seven times. The mighty BUCKPASSER was the sire of the 1975 and 1976 Queen’s Plate winners L’ENJOLEUR and NORCLIFFE, respectively. And NORCLIFFE’S best son, GROOVY (1983), would become one of America’s racing darlings. So it continues: the mighty DANZIG (1977), a son of NORTHERN DANCER, sired DANCE SMARTLY and GIANT’S CAUSEWAY (1997), a son of STORM CAT (1983), sired the 1997 Queen’s Plate winner, MIKE FOX (1994).  Since 1990, 15 winners of the Queen’s Plate have been sired by stallions bred and born in the USA.

The gorgeous NORCLIFFE

The gorgeous NORCLIFFE, a son of the champion, BUCKPASSER, shows that good looks can, indeed, be inherited.

Owned by Canada's SamSon Farm, Plate winner, EYE OF THE LEOPARD now stands at Calumet. He is a son of the incomparable A.P. INDY.

Owned by Canada’s SamSon Farm, the 2009 Plate winner, EYE OF THE LEOPARD now stands at Calumet. He is a son of the incomparable A.P. INDY.

The continuing domination of colts over fillies from the 1940’s until today reflects the growth of the Canadian thoroughbred industry in general, spear-headed by the leadership of the Seagram family, E.P. Taylor, Ernie Samuels and, more recently, Gustav Schickedanz, Frank Stronach and Eugene Melnick. And even though Woodbine, like so many other North American race tracks, has been threatened by changing times, the Queen’s Plate forges on and reminds Canadians on an annual basis that horse racing is still another sport that brings Canada pride.

The names of contemporary Queen’s Plate winners are well-known to Americans, as well as members of the thoroughbred milieu worldwide.

Below, we let another medium do the talking as a way of celebrating some of the finest Canadian colts of the last fifty years. Each of these victories dazzle and delight — while reminding the modest folk of Canada that our native-grown thoroughbreds have always been and continue to be champions of the highest calibre.

Protect your 50 GUINEAS, Canada. And protect your horses.

Each have played an enormous role in the development of a country and its culture.

NORTHERN DANCER (1961): CANADA’S MUCH-LOVED PONY WINS HIS FINAL RACE, THE 1964 QUEEN’S PLATE, UNDER JOCKEY BILL HARTACK. (NOTE: Audio comes on only in the final 50 seconds.)

IZVESTIA (1987): CANADA’S TRIPLE CROWN WINNER COMES HOME TO TAKE THE 1990 QUEEN’S PLATE IN A BRILLIANT, BREATHTAKING PERFORMANCE

WITH APPROVAL (1986): ANOTHER CANADIAN TRIPLE CROWN WINNER BEGINS HIS JOURNEY WITH A WIN IN THE 1989 QUEEN’S PLATE

ALYDEED (1989): ALYDAR’S LITTLE BOY “IN A CLASS OF HIS OWN” AS HE WINS THE 1992 QUEEN’S PLATE FOR ROGER ATFIELD AND JOCKEY CRAIG PERRET

PETESKI (1990): AFFIRMED’S LITTLE BOY — “A DECISIVE WINNER” OF THE 1993 QUEEN’S PLATE. THE WIN GAVE TRAINER ROGER ATFIELD HIS 6th QUEEN’S PLATE WINNER. PETESKI WENT ON TO WIN THE CANADIAN TRIPLE CROWN.

AWESOME AGAIN (1994): WINNER OF THE 1997 QUEEN’S PLATE, THIS WONDERFUL COLT WENT ON TO SHOW JUST HOW GOOD HE WAS IN THE 1998 BREEDERS CUP CLASSIC:

SCATTER THE GOLD (1997): THE SON OF DANCE SMARTLY GIVES HER THE FIRST OF TWO QUEEN’S PLATE WINNERS IN 2000. HE BROKE HIS MAIDEN ON PLATE DAY!

WANDO (2000): THIS FEISTY CHESTNUT, A SON OF LANGFHUR, WOULD GO ON TO WIN THE 2003 CANADIAN TRIPLE CROWN. AND THIS IS HOW IT ALL STARTED — “PATRICK HUSBANDS ASKS HIM FOR HIS HEART AND WANDO OPENS UP” :

NIIGON (2001): A FABULOUS COLT STAKES HIS CLAIM TO GREATNESS, WINNING THE 2004 QUEEN’S PLATE FOR HIS SIRE, UNBRIDLED:

MIKE FOX (2004): THE SON OF GIANT’S CAUSEWAY MAKES JOCKEY EMMA-JANE WILSON THE FIRST WOMAN TO WIN THE PLATE IN A THRILLER:

SOURCES USED IN THIS ARTICLE

THE QUEEN’S PLATE: The First Hundred Years by Trent Frayne. 1959: The Jockey Club Limited, Canada (Printed and bound in Canada by HUNTER ROSE LTD.)

THE CANADIAN HORSE RACING HALL OF FAME:  http://www.canadianhorseracinghalloffame.com

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