06/21/2011 12:44PM

Queen's Plate: Owners of Head Honcho, One Big Gator hope third time's the charm


ETOBICOKE, Ontario —Third time lucky?

Two sets of local owners, both dedicated players of the racing game, will be involved in the Queen’s Plate for the third time when the $1 million showpiece for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds is run over 1 1/4 miles here at Woodbine on Sunday.

Rocco d’Alimonte and Frank Annecchini, who own Head Honcho in partnership with their trainer, Catherine Day Phillips, will be looking for their first Queen’s Plate win when fielding their third Queen’s Plate entrant in as many years.

Bud and Jackie Reynolds, of the Jam Jar Racing Stable, are farther removed from Queen’s Plate participation, with their previous entrants having come in 1999 and 2002, but are happy to be back in the hunt with One Big Gator.

D’Alimonte and Annecchini almost hit paydirt when Day Phillips sent out Mr. Foricos Two U to finish second, beaten a neck by Eye of the Leopard, in 2009.

Their experience last year was not as enjoyable, however, as the maiden Vicar Street ended 12th in the field of 13.

Mr. Foricos Two U, who was winless in seven starts after the Queen’s Plate, is retired and living a life of leisure on the farm.

Vicar Street has started three times since the Queen’s Plate, and is still a maiden. In his last start, Vicar Street finished third in a 1 1/16-mile turf race here on June 5 and he could see action on the Queen’s Plate program.

“I like our chances this year,” said D’Alimonte, who in addition to owning and breeding horses is a student of handicapping whose approach includes a mixture of speed figures and track variants.

“He’s a horse that always comes from off the pace; that’s important in a race like this. So far, he’s never had a really efficient race. Last time, he was very wide. With a good trip, I think he’ll get the distance.”

Head Honcho has broken slowly in each of his four starts but has won on two of those occasions, including a 1 1/8-mile restricted allowance race here June 1 in which he overcame a slow pace and a wide trip to prevail by a half-length.

Jono Jones, who has ridden Head Honcho in each of his starts, retains the mount.

Jones won the 2008 Queen’s Plate with Not Bourbon for trainer Roger Attfield and finished second with A Bit O’Gold, trained by Day Phillips, in 2004.

John Ross, who trains One Big Gator, sent out Catahoula Parish to finish seventh for the Reynoldses as the 5-1 third choice in the 1999 Queen’s Plate and Shaw’s Creek to finish sixth as the 4-1 third choice in 2002.

At age 12, Shaws Creek still reports for to work at the racetrack, as stable pony for John Ross.

Catahoula Parish, at 15, stands at stud at Display Farm in Ontario.

“Catahoula Parish and Shaws Creek both won the Plate Trial,” said Bud Reynolds. “They were favorites in the Plate, but they seemed to come in over the top.

“We’ll have a longshot this time. In my opinion – and I’m no trainer – I think our horse is coming into this race on an improving plane.

“He’s probably the least expensive horse I’ve ever bought, too. John picked him out and we paid $6,500 for him at the sale here.”

One Big Gator has run six times and did not put it all together until his last start, which was his third attempt in an Ontario-sired maiden race at 1 1/16 miles.

Racing without blinkers and with Patrick Husbands in the irons for the first time, One Big Gator stalked the pace before moving into the lead on the far turn and holding sway for a 1 1/4-length victory.

“The last time he ran, the question was do we go forward to the Plate or not?,” said Ross. “We based it not just on how much he won by, but how he did it.”

With Husbands the regular rider of leading Queen’s Plate contender Check Your Soul, Ross recruited Jim McAleney.

No stranger to the Queen’s Plate, McAleney has ridden in 12 previous editions with his best results being second-place finishes with I and I in 2000 and Anglian Prince in 2002. McAleney also piloted the filly, Gold Strike, to a third-place finish in 2005.

Pair of maiden specials highlight Thursday card

A a pair of straight maiden races offering purses of $67,100 purses headline Thursday afternoon’s program.

Charlie’s the Man, second here last year in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, will be looking for his first win in the seven-furlong third race.

Owned by Jim and Susan Hill, Charlie’s the Man had finished second in a six-furlong maiden race in his only try prior to the Coronation Futurity last year when trained by Roger Attfield.

This year, in the hands of trainer Brian Lynch, Charlie’s the Man was in the hunt early but dropped from contention after being bumped in upper stretch during a 1 1/16-mile turf race here June 5.

“We’re trying to some conditioning in him, get some experience,” said Lynch. “He was eligible for the Queen’s Plate, but there was no way he was going to get there.”

Charlie’s the Man will be racing with blinkers for the first time on Thursday and Eurico Rosa Da Silva has picked up the mount.

Unforgettable Fu, making his second start after an encouraging opener, should be prominent. He is owned by Donna and Vern Dubinsky, trained by Josie Carroll, and ridden by Luis Contreras, the connections of leading Queen’s Plate candidate Inglorious.

The fifth, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race for fillies and mares, attracted a field of 13, in which there are several possibilities.

In keeping with the Queen’s Plate theme is Sweet Colleen, a half-sister to Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando, who will be making her debut and has worked well for trainer Mike Keogh and owner/breeder Gustav Schickedanz.

Smart Penny has been beaten as the odds-on favorite, once as part of an entry, in two starts for Roger Attfield, trainer of leading Queen’s Plate contender Check Your Soul, but looks to be sitting on a winning effort.