07/01/2003 11:00PM

Plate, Oaks winners broke the rules

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The winners of the two Canadian classic races recently run at Woodbine, the Labatt Woodbine Oaks and the Queen's Plate, each defied convention.

No filly had won the nine-furlong Oaks without having raced as a 2-year-old until this year, when unbeaten Too Late Now prevailed. Oaks runner-up Seeking the Ring was also unraced at 2, and both fillies had never even debuted until early April.

Wando won the Queen's Plate in a romp after leading all the way, despite coming off a five-week layoff, which is the longest a Plate winner had been off in the modern history of the race.

Wando used the Grade 3 Marine Stakes as his final Plate tuneup, an unorthodox method of getting to the big race. The only other Marine victor to go directly into the Plate and win in recent years was 1996 winner Victor Cooley, who did so when there was a four-week gap between the two races.

Including longshot TJ's Lucky Moon, who captured the 2002 Plate off a four-week break, three of the last seven Plate winners prevailed with at least a month off heading into the race. Only Son of Briartic (1982) accomplished that feat between 1980 and 1995.

Wando picked up seven pounds heading into the Plate, in which all male runners carry 126 pounds, yet managed to run the race of his life while earning a whopping 112 Beyer Speed Figure. Most Plate winners in the race's modern history had already toted 126 pounds in the Plate Trial Stakes, which has been the most productive Plate prep.

Wando was the first wire-to-wire winner of the Plate since Peteski in 1993. In fact, only seven horses have led throughout the 1 1/4-mile race since it was moved to Woodbine in 1956.

Track bias report

There appeared to be a speed bias on Plate Day, June 22, although the strength of the bias is hard to gauge. Closers ran one-two after coming from off fast fractions in the first race, while front-runners and pacepressers dominated the other dirt races on the card. Horses who made up ground, included Golden Corsage, S N J's Desire, Wire Whip, My Lucky Strike, Dawn Watcher, and Rock Again.

June 29: many outside runners ran huge, and the rail seemed dead, although Dillinger did take the ninth race after dueling up front along the rail on the turn. Other horses who saved ground included Talk to Me Baby, V F Private Flyer, Red Hot Gal, Off the Island, Scutterbotch, Flying Lea, Molly's Wisdom, Everyone Knows, Open Deeds, and American Forum.

June 25: A fairly strong speed bias surfaced. Horse's who ran against the bias included Twistin Bit, American Money, Whiskey Sour, Power of Three, Sweep Dancer, Regal Victory, Robot, and Fa Vid.

June 20: The inside paths were much better than the outside. Wide runners who fared okay included You're Such a Deee, Tuff Broo, Tower of Honour, Princess Pamela, Kings and Quinns, Black Label, Tempest Run, Diablo's Girl, Growing Gains, Starlet Approval, and Dance Me.

June 15: The inside was the place to be. Horses who ran well against the bias included Sovereign Attire, Short Squeeze, Algorhythm, Awesome Rush, Toni T, Tiger Shrimp, Excellent Cut, Adjalah, Nicholle's Devil, and Indian Trouble.

Plate telecast had some flaws

The overall quality of the Queen's Plate telecast on Sportsnet, which was produced by Woodbine Entertainment, was adequate, except for during the actual race, which was very hard to follow because of the numerous camera cuts used, 12 in all.

U.S. television networks are gradually getting away from using an abundance of camera angles in their horse racing coverage. In fact, NBC's Belmont Stakes show utilized just one pan shot throughout the 1 1/2-mile race, so that Funny Cide could easily be followed in his quest for the Triple Crown.

Sportsnet's coverage of races like the Plate is obviously geared more toward casual racing fans than hardcore horseplayers. It makes little sense, however, to do a feature on Chantal Sutherland, in her bid to become the first female rider to win the Plate, and then make it impossible to follow her mount, Button Wood, around the track. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to keep tabs on Wando, because he led all the way.