06/20/2006 11:00PM

Queen's Plate keys, past and present


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Some intriguing results have occurred during the last 10 runnings of the Queen's Plate, North America's oldest continuously run stakes, which will be contested for the 147th time Sunday at Woodbine.

Awesome Again won the 1997 Plate in just the third start of his career, and didn't even make his racing debut until about six weeks before the race.

Scatter Gold won in 2000 as a maiden, while going from turf to dirt. His full sister Dancethruthedawn became the 33rd filly to win the race in 2001, doing so just two weeks after winning the Woodbine Oaks.

T J's Lucky Moon, at 82-1 in 2002, is the highest-priced winner in the modern history of the Queen's Plate.

Here are some facts and trends to consider when handicapping this year's Queen's Plate.

* Shillelagh Slew, one of the more fancied runners in this year's field, will try to break some rules on Sunday. He will run the 1 1/4-mile distance off only one prep race, which was an impressive allowance victory at seven furlongs. He caught a virus shortly after that April 29 race, which forced him to miss his final tune-up in the Grade 3 Marine Stakes.

Four horses since 1996 have contested the Plate after having had just one prep in the same year. All four finished up the track.

* Wanna Runner, the probable favorite Sunday, has taken an unconventional path to the race. He was based at Santa Anita with trainer Bob Baffert last winter, and shipped to Sunland Park and won the April 1 WinStar Derby. After bypassing the Kentucky Derby, he captured the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby, convincingly, with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

United States shippers Wild Desert and King of Jazz ran one-two in the 2005 Plate, and another U.S. exactor, involving Wanna Runner and Sterwins, is possible on Sunday.

* The Todd Pletcher-trained Sterwins was a romping maiden winner two weeks ago at Monmouth, covering the 1 1/16 miles in a time that earned him a 101 Beyer, the highest in this year's Plate field. Sterwins was a fast-closing second in his only other start, on May 20, in a maiden sprint at Belmont.

Five runners since 1996 have made their third career start in the Plate. Two of them hit the board, Awesome Again and California invader Euchre, who was third in 1999.

The 16 Plate starters exiting a maiden race since 1996 have done surprisingly well, recording 3 wins and 2 thirds. Runners exiting an allowance race had a poor record during that time, with just one third-place finish from 43 starters.

Pletcher won the 1998 Plate with Archers Bay, who was owned by Eugene Melnyk, the owner of Sterwins.

* The main Plate prep is the Plate Trial Stakes, which is usually run three weeks prior to the Plate. The 40 horses who went directly from the 1 1/8-mile Trial to the Plate from 1996-2005 had a record of 3-8-4.

The eight runners in this year's Trial are all expected to participate in the Plate. The winner, Pipers Thunder, a lightly raced son of Thunder Gulch, appears to have the most upside. He earned only an 81 Beyer in the Trial, and will obviously have to raise his game to another level if he is going to make an impact in the Plate.

* The 1 1/16-mile Marine has produced five runners that went directly into the Plate since 1996, and two of them were victorious - Victor Cooley (1996) and Wando (2003). Malakoff is taking that route this year.

Malakoff rallied for a commanding seven-length score in the May 20 Marine, earning a 92 Beyer. Bucking a fairly strong headwind in the stretch, he ran the last quarter-mile in about 28 seconds.

* Horses racing within five lengths of the lead after a half-mile have dominated the last 10 editions of the Plate, winning eight times. Front-runners were victorious on three occasions, stalkers scored five times, and two closers got home first.

Two closers in the Trial are worth using on the bottom of superfecta wagers - the runner-up, Ascot Bill, and Cifercat, who made a big wide bid before hanging at the end to be fourth.