05/31/2009 11:00PM

Plate picture gets focus

Michael Burns
Eye of the Leopard wins the Plate Trial with Eurico da Silva riding.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It certainly didn't take long for Eye of the Leopard to change his spots.

Unplaced when he debuted in a maiden race at Keeneland on April 15, a maiden winner here May 10, and now a stakes winner after Sunday's Plate Trial, Eye of the Leopard has established himself as one of the favorites for the $1 million Queen's Plate at 1 1/4 miles here June 21.

Breaking from the outside post in the field of 10 for the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial, Eye of the Leopard raced wide throughout under jockey Eurico da Silva and rallied for a neck victory over the equally promising Southdale.

"He had to take back," said Mark Frostad, who trains the homebred Eye of the Leopard for Sam-Son Farm. "He had to take back, relaxed, did everything right.

"He lost a lot of lengths, but a big horse like that, you can't be checking him. He has a nice stride, once he gets into it."

Being by a North American Horse of the Year, A.P. Indy, out of Sovereign Award-winning 3-year-old filly Eye of the Sphynx, Eye of the Leopard obviously was cut out to be a good one.

Frostad was far from discouraged when Eye of the Leopard ran eighth of 10 at Keeneland over seven furlongs.

"He's not a sprinter," said Frostad. "He was up there early, got bounced around a little bit, got some Poly in his face, then came on in the stretch and passed a couple of horses. All and all, it was not a bad experience.

"In his next start here, he showed up very well."

Eye of the Leopard, with blinkers on, was prominent throughout that 1 1/16-mile race and scored by 2 3/4 lengths over Gallant, who came back to win his maiden at 1 1/8 miles one race before the Plate Trial.

"I think a mile and a quarter will be right up his alley," said Frostad.

Black liked what he saw

Southdale, also making his third career start in the Plate Trial, had finished third in his 6 1/2-furlong debut at Keeneland on April 18, and the graduated impressively over seven furlongs here May 3.

In the Plate Trial, Southdale was prominent throughout under jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson and just failed to hold off Eye of the Leopard after taking over with a furlong to run.

"I was thrilled with him," said Ian Black who trains Eye of the Leopard for owner-breeder Rod Ferguson.

"When they go a half in 49, you know he's going to be close. He's just so naturally quick.

"I don't see why he wouldn't get a mile and a quarter."

Solid effort from Rapid Release

Rapid Release rallied to finish 2 1/4 lengths behind Eye of the Leopard under Jono Jones in his best of four tries since joining the barn of trainer Roger Attfield.

After running fourth in his North American debut, a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles of turf at Keeneland, Rapid Release finished third and then fifth in two main-track races at the same distance and condition here one week apart.

"I felt we didn't learn anything in his first start here, and wanted to run him one more time to go into the Trial," said Attfield.

"Going into this race, I had the time to train him the way I wanted to train him. His last work was really good, and he ran a decent race Sunday."

Fourth and fifth good enough to go

Active Duty and Keino West, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the Plate Trial, also will go on to the Queen's Plate.

Trained by Mark Casse, Active Duty was beaten 4 1/2 lengths under jockey Corey Fraser.

"I was disappointed, not in where he finished but the way he finished," said Casse. "It was a crazy race - the pace was slow and Corey was closer than he wanted to be early. The horse was kind of fighting him."

Keino West, trained by Steve Attard, just missed fourth money in his best effort to date this season.

"I was happy," said Attard. "I still think he wasn't 100 percent ready. He'll love the mile and a quarter."

Tactics fizzle with El Brujo

The major disappointment in the Plate Trial was El Brujo, who finished ninth of 10 under jockey Patrick Husbands as the 8-5 choice.

"I instructed Patrick to take him off the pace, to teach him something," said trainer Malcolm Pierce. "The horse didn't want to come back, and was checked four or five times before they got to the five-eighths pole.

"We'll surely not be trying something like that again - we'll just let him run his own style."

Pierce is keeping his options open regarding El Brujo's participation in the Queen's Plate.

Clement strikes again

Rutherienne became the latest successful shipper for trainer Christophe Clement when she captured last Saturday's $301,600 Nassau over 1 1/16 miles on turf under jockey Alan Garcia.

"This filly is a very good filly," said Clement, who trains Rutherienne for Virginia Kraft Payson.

"We had a choice of races at Woodbine, California, and New York and I thought, on paper, this race was a touch easier."

Rutherienne was the third Nassau winner for Clement, after Naissance Royale in 2006 and Siringas in 2002.

Clement, who has compiled a record of 10-10-9 from 51 stakes starters here dating back to 1994, is eyeing the Grade 2 Canadian, a 1 1/8 mile turf race for fillies and mares here Sept. 20, as a long-term target for Rutherienne's return.

"She obviously likes the track," said Clement. "There would be no reason for her not to come back."

Sihota in neck brace

Apprentice jockey Natasha Sihota, who initially appeared to have escaped serious injury in a spill here last Wednesday, has been diagnosed with two small fractures in her vertebrae and one at the base of her skull.

"She'll be wearing a neck brace for three weeks," said Neal Wilson, who is Sihota's agent. "The timetable will be three months before she can get back on a horse."