06/08/2010 11:00PM

Gonzalez targets first Queen's Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Nick Gonzalez was looking forward to contesting his first Queen's Plate last year with My Bad.

A homebred racing for the Tucci Stable of Carlo and Lou Tucci, My Bad punched his ticket to the Queen's Plate with a sharp allowance score over 1 1/16 miles and had a month to prepare for the $1 million race.

But a Queen's Plate appearance by My Bad was not to be.

"He came back with some filling in one of his tendons less than two weeks before the Plate," said Martha Gonzalez, wife and assistant to the trainer and in charge of the day-to-day operations of the stable here.

This year, Team Gonzalez is back on the Queen's Plate trail with Big Red Mike, who is a homebred for the Terra Racing Stable of Dom Romeo.

On Sunday, Big Red Mike will be looking to state his case for inclusion in the field for the July 4 Queen's Plate when he goes postward in the 1 1/8 Plate Trial.

Big Red Mike came into Fort Erie late last summer but did not debut until Nov. 21.

"It was just shins and baby stuff," Gonzalez said. "We gelded him; he was a bit of a handful. Once we did that, he started going good."

Big Red Mike did make a good impression once he got to the races, finishing second at 6 1/2 furlongs on Nov. 21 and then coming back just more than two weeks later on the closing day of the meeting to graduate at seven furlongs.

"The way he'd run in his first two starts got us thinking he could be a Plate horse," Gonzalez said. "That's kind of the reason he went to Florida."

Big Red Mike first went to the farm in Ocala, where he was turned out for a month. He then galloped for a couple of weeks before being sent to trainer Brian Lynch at Palm Meadows, where he breezed for the first time Feb. 12.

Returning to Woodbine in late March, Big Red Mike made his seasonal bow on April 11 and finished second, beaten by three-quarters of a length after jumping the shadow of the finish-line marker.

Big Red Mike then tried two turns for the first time and finished third in a mile and 70-yard allowance, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by the more seasoned shipper Gold Medallion here May 2.

Then, despite having the options of an interim allowance race or the May 29 Marine Stakes, the decision was made to proceed directly to the Plate Trial.

"We thought three races in nine weeks would have been a bit much," Gonzalez said.

Big Red Mike breezed an impressive six furlongs in 1:11.20 on May 28 and followed up with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.20 here last Saturday.

With his regular rider, Emma-Jayne Wilson, committed to D's Wando for the Queen's Plate, Big Red Mike was partnered in those two workouts by Eurico Rosa da Silva.

"In his last breeze, two of our older horses broke off in front of him," Gonzalez said. "Down the lane, Eurico pulled him out and he went right by them."

One of Big Red Mike's workmates that day was Michael's Bad Boy, a hard-knocking 7-year-old gelding who won the Steady Growth Stakes here last June.

My Bad set for Steady Growth

The $125,000 Steady Growth, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and up that will be renewed here Saturday, will mark the first stakes appearance for My Bad on his comeback trail.

"The Steady Growth was kind of the plan for him all along, providing he got back to racing and ran well," Gonzalez said.

My Bad was making his first start in almost 11 months when he finished seventh in a first-level allowance at 5 1/2 furlongs here April 17.

Four weeks later, My Bad moved forward with a third-place effort under the same terms but over seven furlongs of turf.

Patrick Husbands has the mount on My Bad for the Steady Growth.

Attfield has Ernfold in Woodbine Oaks

Trainer Roger Attfield is no stranger to the Woodbine Oaks winner's circle as he greeted Playlist there in 1986, Plenty of Sugar in 1994, and Capdiva in 1997.

On Sunday, Attfield will field a solid contender in Ernfold, a daughter of Stormy Atlantic whom he trains for Jim and Susan Hill.

"I don't think she could be coming up to a race any better than she is right now," Attfield said.

Trained last year by Reade Baker, Ernfold finished third in both the Grade 3 Natalma over one mile of turf and in the Princess Elizabeth over 1 1/16 miles of Polytrack.

Sent to Attfield at Florida's Payson Park in mid-January, Ernfold started breezing there during the third week of February. Ernfold then accompanied the trainer on his annual stopover at Keeneland, where she started picking up the pace in the mornings and made her seasonal bow with a win on April 21.

While the first-level allowance in which Ernfold returned was run on turf, the 1 1/8-mile distance and the positioning on the calendar were what interested Attfield.

"I wanted to get a route race into her before she came back here for the La Lorgnette" Attfield said. "She ran a big race."

Ernfold finished second in the La Lorgnette, an open race at 1 1/16 miles on May 23, with her regular rider Jim McAleney in the saddle..

"She ran a good race, but it didn't run the way we thought it might," Attfield said.

"There wasn't any pace, and she was running so rank Jimmy let her run up there and take the lead. He couldn't really have done everything differently."

Ernfold had opened up two lengths at the eighth pole and the fact that she could not hold off the talented Kentucky-bred Biofuel can't really be considered a strike against her.

"She got beaten by a very nice filly," said Attfield, who watched Ernfold wind up a length behind Biofuel while leaving third-place finisher and fellow Woodbine Oaks contestant Moment of Majesty another two lengths back.