06/10/2016 12:56PM

Mike developing into Queen's Plate contender

Michael Burns
Mike gets up on the outside to win a maiden race last year.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – As the price reached $200,000 on Hip No. 194 at the 2014 Canadian premier yearling sale, trainer John LeBlanc Jr. could start to feel his heartbeat in his ears. He had been told by an ownership group that included breeder Paradox Farm, Mardon Stable, and Hugh Sutherland not to stop bidding on the horse until he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Those were my instructions,” he said. “I tried to slow the bidding down, but the underbidders kept firing back really quickly.”

In the end, the bidding stopped at $325,000, and LeBlanc hadn’t felt a tap.

The horse is Queen’s Plate contender Mike, who was scheduled to run in an Ontario-sired allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Tapeta on Saturday at Woodbine.

While his name is simple, it has deep meaning behind it. Mike was foaled on March 28, 2013, one year to the day after Michael Colterjohn, one of the founders of Paradox Farm and Mike’s namesake, died from brain cancer.

“The people on the farm always called him Mike,” LeBlanc said. “When the owners were trying to figure out a name for him, they were trying to work Mike in there and everything. It just finally came down to Mike, and that was it.”

LeBlanc said he had looked at a number of yearlings before the 2014 sale began but found out he was going to be bidding on Mike just as the first horse was getting ready to enter the sales ring.

“I was given a list of horses to look at,” he said. “I found out 10 minutes before the sale that I was bidding on Mike. I was told, ‘We are buying this horse.’ ”

From the sales grounds, Mike was sent to LeBlanc’s farm in Rosemont, Ontario, where he was broken by LeBlanc himself over the winter. Mike spent most of his 2-year-old season at the track but didn’t make his first start until Woodbine’s closing day in late November.

“We let him grow into himself,” LeBlanc said. “He’s a big horse, and his size was part of a small setback we had. His 2-year-old year was for education and development, and that was why we only got the one start into him.”

Mike won that first start, an Ontario-sired maiden special weight over seven furlongs, on the same day that his older full brother, Pender Harbour, was making his last start in the Grade 3 Valedictory Stakes here. With no other racing opportunities available at Woodbine after that first start, Mike was sent back to LeBlanc’s farm for the winter break.

“We kept him in light training over the winter at the farm,” LeBlanc said. “Once Woodbine opened up in February, we were here and ready to go.”

Mike has made two starts as a 3-year-old. He started the season with a seventh-place finish in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint here April 23 and then finished third in an Ontario-sired allowance May 14 in his first two-turn race. LeBlanc said the training program is meant to have Mike peak in the Queen’s Plate on July 3.

“He’s a fabulous individual,” LeBlanc said. “He’s a classy individual. His mind-set is to be a contender. I thought he should have won his last start, but there were some circumstances that prevented that.”

The connections are hopeful that Mike can follow in the footsteps of Pender Harbour, who was a force throughout the 2011 Canadian Triple Crown. Pender Harbour finished third in the Queen’s Plate before winning the Prince of Wales Stakes on dirt at Fort Erie and the Breeders’ Stakes on turf back at Woodbine. In all, Pender Harbour finished his career with 12 victories – 10 in stakes – from 41 starts and purse earnings of more than $1.9 million.