07/08/2013 6:02PM

Queen's Plate: Tucci Stables finds success with moderately priced claims

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Michael Burns/WEG photo
Midnight Aria, who won the Queen's Plate at Woodbine on Sunday, was claimed by current owners Tucci Stables for $35,000 last winter at Gulfstream.

Prior to Sunday, it could already be said that Lou Tucci and his uncle Carlo, who manage the family's Tucci Stables, have mastered the claiming game in a big way. The outfit campaigned former claimer One For Rose to multiple Sovereign Awards a decade ago.

However, Tucci Stables reached another level of success as Midnight Aria, claimed for just $35,000 earlier this year, held off favored Up With the Birds to score a front-running victory in the 154th Queen's Plate, the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, at Woodbine. The outfit also sent out River Seven, winner of the Grade 3 Grey Stakes last year, to finish 10th in the classic.

“My uncle and I have been chasing this dream for over 40 years and it’s hard to express what you feel when a dream comes true,” Lou Tucci said. “It’s like the seventh game final of the Stanley Cup and scoring the winning goal times a thousand.”

Prior to Sunday's classic victory, Tucci Stables' biggest success on the track came with One For Rose, who the outfit claimed for $40,000 out of her debut victory in October 2002 at Woodbine. Over the next three years, the mare bankrolled $1,321,363 while winning nine stakes races, including two editions of the Grade 3 Maple Leaf as well as the Grade 3 Seagram Cup. She earned the Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding older female for three consecutive years, from 2003 to 2005.

Another pair of astute claims were involved in securing Tucci Stables' first Queen's Plate victory in just its second attempt at the race. The outfit claimed the winning Mt. Magazine mare Shebandowana for $12,500 out of her final start, when she finished seventh as the favorite in May 1997 at Woodbine. The mare, bred in Ontario by Grey Stone Manor and previously owned by Richard W. Pletan, concluded her career with three wins from 21 starts for earnings of $64,749.

The Tuccis privately sold Shebandowana to Yvonne Schwabe, and she has become a productive broodmare. Her six winners from nine starters, all bred by Schwabe, include Wanna Runner, winner of the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby and a Queen's Plate also-ran in 2006; and stakes-placed How Far Is Heaven. In 2009, Schwabe sent Shebandowana to the court of champion and two-time Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute, who was standing his first season at Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington, Ky. The mare produced Midnight Aria in Ontario the following May.

Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency consigned the colt to the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale, where he fetched $80,000 from the Lobdell Family Stable. Midnight Aria began his career running in maiden claiming company last winter on the Florida circuit, giving the Tuccis an opportunity to buy back part of the family. Trainer Nick Gonzalez claimed the colt for $35,000 out of his third start, a runner-up effort on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park.

"We recognized that he was an Ontario-bred and that's always important for us," Gonzalez said prior to the Queen's Plate. "He's a big, good-looking horse. I saw that he had sold for $80,000 as a yearling, so I figured he was going to be a good-looking horse. When he came over to the paddock [at Gulfstream], I sure was pleased with how he looked that day."

Midnight Aria broke his maiden in his subsequent outing on Feb. 16 at Gulfstream before finishing third in a pair of starter optional claiming races. Upon arriving at Woodbine in the spring, he finished third in both the Wando Stakes and the Plate Trial, beaten less than two lengths each time.

"We didn't have any Queen's Plate visions when we claimed him, but things have turned out pretty good since we got him," Gonzalez said. "We're happy with the way he's improved. His speed figures have gone up every race. He's a big horse and that probably has a lot to do with him improving."

With the Queen's Plate victory, Midnight Aria has now earned $630,795, only missing the board once in his nine career starts. His dam produced a full sister for Schwabe in 2012.

Other top horses campaigned by Tucci Stables, several of them also through the claiming route, include Grade 2 winners Just Rushing and Jungle Wave, Grade 3 winners Artie Hot and My List, and homebred stakes winner Executrix.

“Carlo and Lou Tucci have been in the business forever and are the best owners you could ever have," Gonzalez said. "They’ve paid their dues, paid their bills, love and have a passion for the sport. Any time one of their horses got injured, they found [it] a good home. They deserve everything they got here today.”