06/22/2003 11:00PM

Husbands basks in Plate win

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The highly successful career of jockey Patrick Husbands had included wins in two $1 million, Grade 1 races - Belmont's Met Mile and Woodbine's Atto Mile. But for Husbands, neither could compare with the $1 million Queen's Plate, which he won for the first time Sunday at Woodbine aboard Wando.

"This is the biggest race in my whole life," said Husbands. "Since I came to Canada, I've always waited for a shot.

"When I reached the quarter-pole, I wasn't even thinking of getting to the wire, I was so happy. All the races I won in my life, this is the one that stands out."

Husbands, 30, who was born in Barbados and established himself as a top-flight rider there before coming to Canada in 1994, had ridden in six previous Queen's Plates. His best finish before Sunday was a third with Forever Grand last year.

Until a couple of weeks ago, Husbands and his agent, Tom Patton Jr., were shopping for a mount for this year's renewal of Canada's most prestigious race.

Both were well aware that Todd Kabel, regular rider of stablemates Wando and Mobil, would have to choose between the two and leave trainer Mike Keogh and owner and breeder Gustav Schickedanz in search of a second rider.

Husbands, winner of four consecutive Sovereign Awards as Canada's outstanding jockey and the leading rider here in three of those four campaigns, was an obvious candidate.

But it was not until a week before the Plate, when Husbands worked Wando for the first time, that the picture began to come into focus.

Kabel declared his preference for Mobil on Monday morning, and all that remained was for both horses to make it to the post for Husbands to take his place aboard Wando.

And while Wando was much the best Sunday, Kabel refused to second-guess himself.

"I'm just happy for [Keogh and Schickedanz]," said Kabel. "That's the way it goes.

"You make the right moves, you make the wrong moves. That's part of the sport."

Kabel knows of what he speaks, having found himself on the winning side of the Plate equation with Regal Discovery in 1995 and Scatter the Gold in 2000.

In 1995 Kabel was riding Freedom Fleet, one of the Plate favorites, but was replaced by then-New York-based Mike Smith.

Dave Penna had been slated to ride Regal Discovery but was injured the weekend before the Plate, and Kabel found himself on a winner.

In 2000, Scatter the Gold, a maiden, was coupled with Strike Smartly in a Sam-Son Farm entry. Kabel had his pick of the pair and chose right.