06/22/2008 11:00PM

Maidens can't be ruled out in Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - There was a time in the early history of the Queen's Plate, which will be run for the 149th time Sunday at Woodbine, when only maidens were allowed to run in the prestigious event. Five maidens are among the probable field this year, and two of them have a legitimate chance to win the 1 1/4-mile race - Solitaire and Jungle Brew.

Solitaire, based at Saratoga with trainer James Bond, didn't debut until an April 14 maiden special route on the grass at Gulfstream. After getting away slowly, he mounted a strong rally to finish a respectable third.

In his only other outing here, in the June 1 Plate Trial Stakes, Solitaire rallied inside from off slow fractions to finish a close second.

Jungle Brew, trained by Brian Lynch for Stronach Stable, was a closing second in both of his starts against maiden special opposition. Most recently, going nine furlongs on the same day as the Trial, he rallied four wide over what seemed like an inside-biased Polytrack to finish just a half-length back.

Two maidens have won the Plate in the past 30 years, Golden Choice in 1986 and Scatter the Gold in 2000. In the modern history of the race, the only horse to capture the Plate off just two starts was the 1997 winner, Awesome Again, a brilliant Stronach runner who was coming off a maiden victory at Hollywood.

Interestingly, runners exiting maiden races have fared much better in the Plate than those coming from allowances or optional claimers. Since 1998, horses that last raced in maiden company posted a record of 2-1-2 from 16 starters, and allowance or optional-claiming competitors had a win and a second from 33 starters.

Not surprisingly, the nine-furlong Plate Trial has been the most successful prep during the last 10 years, producing four Plate winners, seven runners-up, and four third-place finishers, from 47 starters. Obviously, a strong showing in the Trial, which is run three weeks before the Plate, is a positive. The crack sprinter Not Bourbon won this year's Trial in his first attempt around two turns and may be tough to beat in the Plate if he relaxes as well as he did in the Trial. A win would give his Hall of Fame trainer, Roger Attfield, a record-tying eighth Plate score.

The 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes, which is usually run five weeks before the Plate, has produced five horses that went directly into the Plate since 1998. Wando was the only winner.

The nine-furlong Victoria Park Stakes, which is contested two weeks before the Plate, has yielded just two third-place finishes from 12 starters since 1998.

The Woodbine Oaks, for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, has been a good Plate prelude, even though it's run just two weeks before the big dance. From six starters since 1998, the nine-furlong Oaks has fashioned a win, a second, and a third.

Ginger Brew won this year's Oaks by six lengths on a hot and humid day. She seems vulnerable while returning on short rest Sunday.

Six fillies have won the Plate since 1953, the most recent being Dancethruthedawn in 2001.

Horses possessing speed have fared very well in the Plate since 1998. Front-runners won on four occasions during that time, although only Wando led at every call. Stalkers compiled four victories in the past 10 years, and closers scored twice.

Serious horseplayers should take the elastic off the bankroll on big days at Woodbine, such as the Plate card. The large pools are filled with money bet by neophytes, who rarely come to the races. Bettors don't need many hits to show a profit on the day, and big scores are possible.

The superfecta on the Plate can be a lucrative gamble. In 2006, it returned $5,861 after 16-1 shot Edenwold outran logical favorites Sterwins and Malakoff. Late-running 19-1 shot Ascot Bill was along for fourth.

The 2005 Plate superfecta paid a generous $1,973, when 3-1 second choice Wild Desert beat King of Jazz (5-1) and Gold Strike (7-2). Those who hit the "all" button in final position, which is never a bad idea when playing the super, were blessed when 54-1 outsider Molinaro Beau came from last to clunk up for fourth.

Handicappers who preferred the first two finishers in the 2004 Plate Trial could have been rewarded handsomely three weeks later, when the Trial runner-up Niigon edged Trial winner A Bit O'Gold for the Plate victory. Plodding longshots Will He Crow and Just in Case Jimmy helped to create a $5,343 super payoff.

For horseplayers who prefer horizontal wagers, the Plate is also part of several pick threes, the pick four, and the pick seven.