06/16/2017 12:00PM

Queen's Plate: Malibu Secret has everything but experience

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Michael Burns
Malibu Secret has raced three times, including this victory in a maiden race in April at Woodbine.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Before starting his own training operation in 1998, Malcolm Pierce played a part in three Queen’s Plate victories as an assistant trainer for Jim Day and Mark Frostad.

Pierce was working as Day’s assistant when Regal Intention won the Queen’s Plate in 1988 and was part of Dance Smartly’s Canadian Triple Crown sweep in 1991. In 1996, Pierce also played a major role in Victor Cooley’s victory in the Queen’s Plate while working for Frostad. While he wasn’t the listed trainer for the race, Pierce said he handled a lot of Victor Cooley’s training.

“A good friend of mine, Jeff Begg, owned Victor Cooley at the time,” Pierce said. “He asked if he could be a part of our program. I had talked to Mark about bringing him into the barn. He made the final calls, but he let me do the day-to-day training because he was kind of my horse.”

Queen's Plate pedigree analysis: Malibu Secret

Since then, Pierce has taken what he’s learned from his experience with Victor Cooley and applied it to the four horses he’s started in the Queen’s Plate as a trainer. Pierce’s best finish in the race came from Up With the Birds in 2013, when he finished a half-length behind Midnight Aria in second.

“It was very disappointing not to win with Up With the Birds because I thought we had the best horse on the day,” Pierce said. “I think we were just unlucky. The rain came, and we ended up getting a speed-favoring track that played into the winner, and it hurt our chances a little bit.”

Pierce hasn’t had a runner in the Queen’s Plate since that narrow defeat but finds himself back this year with the lightly raced Sam-Son Farm colt Malibu Secret. Pierce said he could tell right away that Malibu Secret had a lot of talent, which is why he entered him in the Vandal Stakes, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint on the turf, for his career debut last August.

“It’s not really the way Sam-Son or I do things, starting a 2-year-old off in a stakes race,” he said. “I had a really good feeling that he was a good horse, especially on the grass, and I had a lot of confidence going into that race. I thought we had a chance to win the Vandal first time out without any experience. He was awfully close to winning.”

Malibu Secret finished second in the Vandal but sustained a minor shin injury following that start and did not race again at age 2. He resumed training over the winter at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland before joining Pierce at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida. His first race since the Vandal came in a maiden special weight back at Woodbine on April 28. Malibu Secret was kept wide by jockey Eurico Da Silva and won the seven-furlong sprint by 2 3/4 lengths.

From there, Malibu Secret made his first start around two turns in the Grade 3 Marine Stakes on May 28. He settled nicely off the pace and launched a four-wide bid for the lead into the stretch before getting in tight between eventual winner Souper Tapit and runner-up Channel Maker. He was angled to the outside but lost ground and wound up third, 5 3/4 lengths behind Channel Maker.

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Should Malibu Secret go in the Queen’s Plate, he would do so with just three starts under his belt. Pierce said the lack of experience has Sam-Son and him wondering if they should skip the race.

“He’s probably got two more works before the Plate, and we’re a definite possibility,” he said. “I’m a little concerned about his seasoning. We don’t want to run just to have our silks show up. We want to go in there with a good feeling that we have a chance to be in the top three in the race. We’re going to watch and get a little better line on it and let him tell us how he’s doing going into the race as we get closer.”

Despite his lack of experience, Malibu Secret appears to have all the makings of a Queen’s Plate contender. He possesses plenty of upside and should handle the 1 1/4-mile distance, but Pierce said a big field could cause problems for an inexperienced horse.

“Fitness-wise, I think we’re in a good spot,” he said. “He’s just so lightly raced. Any time you have a big field, you can get in some trouble, but I think he has a nice cruising speed, and I think he’s a horse you can get position with. Whether he’s good enough on the day or whether he’s good enough on Tapeta, I don’t know.”