Updated on 07/10/2013 11:49AM

Jay Hovdey: Queen's Plate roll of honour led by Dance Smartly

Michael Burns
Ernie Samuel, master of Sam-Son Farms, escorts Dance Smartly and Pat Day into winner's circle after the 1991 Queen's Plate.

The Queen’s Plate, to be run for the 154th time Sunday at Woodbine, can be fairly described as the world’s most famous restricted Thoroughbred race, limited as it is to foals of Canada.

To put the talent pool for the Plate in some kind of perspective, there were 2,073 Canadian foals of 2010 registered with The Jockey Club, a figure that was slightly more than hit the ground in California and slightly less than Louisiana. This may say more about Louisiana and California than it does about Canada, but that’s for another day.

[QUEEN'S PLATE: Get PPs, watch Sunday's full card live]

The best dozen available from that Canadian crop of 2010 will go forth Sunday, at 1 1/4 miles on Woodbine’s synthetic main track. Mark Casse, an Indiana boy who’s made Canada his own, will saddle four starters in hopes of winning his first Plate, while Mark Frostad and Malcolm Pierce, both from Ontario, each have two in the race. Sam-Son Farms’s Up With the Birds, winner of the Black Gold earlier this year at Fair Grounds and trained by Pierce, will be favored.

In the bigger picture, restricted races can have a negative connotation, since all comers are not welcome in a particular category of age or gender and the results are viewed accordingly. To its credit, the Plate has been won by a number of 3-year-olds that have gone on to make an impact in the wider racing world.

Northern Dancer, on the other hand, was already the Western Hemisphere’s best 3-year-old when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner came to Woodbine for what turned out to be his final race. He won the Plate by 7 1/2 lengths.

Victoria Park finished third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness before winning the 1960 Queen’s Plate, then hopped back to Delaware Park to beat Santa Anita Derby winner Tompion in the Leonard Richards. Kennedy Road was the best horse in Canada when he won the Plate in 1971, and one of the best in North America in 1973 when he won the Hollywood Gold Cup, the San Antonio, and the San Diego handicaps.

Queen’s Plate winners L’Enjoleur (1975), Steady Growth (1979), and Key to the Moon (1984) all won open stakes races in the United States. With Approval (1989 Plate) won the Bowling Green, the Tidal, and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Alydeed (1992 Plate) finished second in the Preakness and won the Carter Handicap the following year. Peteski, winner of the 1993 Queen’s Plate, defeated Derby winner Sea Hero and Belmont winner Colonial Affair later that summer in Woodbine’s wide-open Molson Million. And then there was Izvestia, a career winner of $2.7 million whose most significant stakes victory after his 1990 Queen’s Plate score came in the Canadian Turf Handicap . . . at Gulfstream Park.

Awesome Again, a very Americanized Canadian-bred, added lustre to his win in the 1997 Queen’s Plate with subsequent victories in the Jim Dandy, the Stephen Foster, the Whitney, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while the last Queen’s Plate winner to stir things up in the States was 2001 winner Dancethruthedawn, who took the Go for Wand at Saratoga in 2002.

However, there has never been a Queen’s Plate winner quite like Dance Smartly. Not only did she capture the 1991 Plate en route to becoming the only filly to sweep Canada’s 3-year-old Triple Crown, she later added a victory over Florida Derby winner Fly So Free and General Meeting in the Molson Export Million and then handled the best older fillies and mares North America could offer in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs.

For her efforts, Dance Smartly was voted the 1991 Sovereign Award as Canadian Horse of the Year and the Eclipse Award as champion North American 3-year-old filly. In 2003, she was inducted into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. As a broodmare, she produced two winners of the Queen’s Plate, and she is far from forgotten on the big day itself.

On Sunday, a couple hours before the Queen’s Plate is presented, an eclectic collection of 11 fillies and mares is set for the Grade 2, $200,000 Dance Smartly at nine furlongs on the Woodbine grass. The Canadians in the field run for an extra $40,000.

One of them is Hillbrook Farm’s Hard Not to Like. The daughter of Hard Spun is returning to Woodbine for the first time since October 2011, when she beat colts in the Cup and Saucer Stakes. Gail Cox trained her then and Michael Matz has had her since January, when the filly came out strong as a 4-year-old to win the Marshua’s River at Gulfstream Park.

After Hard Not to Like ran poorly in Keeneland’s Jenny Wiley, Matz lightened up on her training and was rewarded with an unlucky second in the Gallorette on Preakness Day. John Velazquez returns for the Dance Smartly ride.

“I really like her,” said Matz, although given her name what else could he say. “The way she was training going into the Jenny Wiley I would have bet anything she’d be in the top three. She never does anything halfway, though. Working her slow before a race, she seems to respond better.”

Hard Not to Like had an easy 52-second breeze at Fair Hill on Monday.

As for Matz, he has competed in Olympic Games in Montreal, Barcelona, and Atlanta and won a Kentucky Derby, a Belmont, and a Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

“But I’ve never been to a Queen’s Plate,” he said, “so I’m really looking forward to the experience. I hope the filly can make it an even better day.”