06/27/2005 12:00AM

An altogether odd Queen's Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The is a race that prides itself on tradition and continuity, but last Sunday's 146th running broke the mold.

For starters, the top two finishers, Wild Desert and King of Jazz, were both making their first start at Woodbine.

Then there was the Plate Trial, which this year seemed to have produced three solid Queen's Plate contenders in Dance With Ravens, Three in the Bag, and Get Down, the first three finishers in that 1 1/8-mile race. On Sunday, Dance With Ravens, Get Down, and Three in the Bag finished seven-eight-nine in the nine-horse field.

Adding to the strange result of the race was Molinaro Beau, a maiden who was a last-minute entrant and seemed hopelessly overmatched, but rallied to finish fourth.

Finally, there was the alarmingly slow time of 2:07.20, the slowest over a fast track since the race was first run under its current terms here in 1957.

It had been a Queen's Plate that promised plenty of intrigue, but had a curiously unsatisfying resolution. Much of the prerace speculation had centered upon Wild Desert, who had not raced since finishing eighth in the Arkansas Derby 10 weeks ago. He had shown just one serious recorded workout at Monmouth during that span before prepping a very slow three furlongs here last Friday.

Daniel Borislow, majority owner of Wild Desert, deflected questions about the colt's preparation at a post-race press conference, saying that all such queries should be directed to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.

The problem is that Dutrow is serving a 60-day suspension for medication violations, which will end July 31.

Dutrow, currently in Saratoga, said he watched the Queen's Plate but did not feel that it was advisable for him to answer any questions concerning Wild Desert.

Wild Desert's trainer on Sunday was Bobby Frankel, who has a division for Stronach Stable here with assistant Brian Lynch. Frankel was expected to be here Sunday and was listed on the program, but didn't make the scene. Rudy Rodriguez, an exercise rider and assistant to Dutrow who had been with Wild Desert at Monmouth and had overseen the colt's final preparations here, did the actual saddling duties.

Borislow said Wild Desert could return to Canada for Fort Erie's $500,000 Prince of Wales, the 1 3/16-mile race on July 17 that follows the Queen's Plate as the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

A bonus is no longer being offered for a sweep of the Canadian Triple Crown, which concludes with the $500,000 Breeders' over 1 1/2 miles on turf here Aug. 7.

Borislow, however, was not diffident when it came to the subject of his Queen's Plate wagering, claiming to have cashed for $100,000 on Wild Desert.

Keith Jones, a former National Hockey League player who is the only Canadian connection in Wild Desert's ownership, said he bet $2,000 to win and place, for a return of $13,000.

That helps explain why Wild Desert went off at 3-1.

Victory meets Valenzuela expectations

Wild Desert's jockey, Patrick Valenzuela, was riding on Woodbine's main track for the first time, but Valenzuela performed his part flawlessly by saving ground and extricating his mount from a couple of potential trouble spots en route to victory.

After watching Wild Desert finish second in the Lane's End at Turfway Park, Valenzuela admitted he had high expectations when he picked up the mount for the Arkansas Derby.

"I thought he was going to be my Derby horse, but he threw in a clunker in Arkansas," said Valenzuela.

Valenzuela also rode in two turf stakes here Sunday, finishing second aboard invader Worldwind Romance in the six-furlong Highlander and 10th aboard locally trained Stone Cat in the Singspiel.

Soaring Free won the Highlander for the second straight season while recording his ninth win in 10 starts on the local turf course and boosting his earnings to $2,122,070.

The Grade 3, $200,000 Play the King, which will be run here Aug. 27, is the next guaranteed local stakes opportunity for Soaring Free, who has won the last two runnings of the seven-furlong turf race.

Plate day posts solid figures

Business was strong Sunday, when a total of $5,778,542 was wagered on Woodbine's 11-race program. An ontrack crowd estimated at 25,000 supplied $1,820,196 of that amount.

The Queen's Plate alone attracted a pool of $1,814,061.

Woodbine's all-time record for live handle, excluding Breeders' Cup Day here in 1996, was the $5,814,484 wagered on Queen's Plate Day in 2003. The handle on last year's Queen's Plate program was $4,951,710.