06/28/2010 11:00PM

Roan Inish gives novice a big shot in Queen's Plate

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The $1 million Queen's Plate, which will be run for the 151st time here at Woodbine on Sunday, always has boasted strong links to both royal and Canadian racing traditions.

Queen Elizabeth II will take care of the royal element, as she is scheduled to be on hand on race day after arriving in Nova Scotia on Monday for the beginning of her Canadian tour.

Local racing tradition will be reflected by the powerhouses Sam-Son Farm, which has won with five of 35 Queen's Plate entrants, and Stronach Stable, which has two Queen's Plate scores from 27 entrants.

Mark Frostad, with four Plate wins to his credit, will send out Sam-Son's homebred trio of the probable favorite Hotep and his uncoupled stablemates Giant's Tomb and Dark Cloud Dancer.

Trainer Roger Attfield, seeking his record ninth Queen's Plate win but his first for Stronach Stable, will field the probable second choice, Mobilizer.

Frostad has saddled 142 stakes winners in his career, while Attfield's total in that department stands at a staggering 339.

And then there's Carolyn Costigan, who has saddled two winners from just 12 starts in a career that officially began here last Oct. 31.

But what puts Costigan on a level playing field with the likes of Frostad and Attfield for this year's Queen's Plate is that her two wins came courtesy of Roan Inish, with the most recent in the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks.

And, as Costigan, so aptly puts it, "It's the horse that's out there, not me."

Costigan, 28, conditions Roan Inish for her father, Bob Costigan.

"People look at me, and say I'm very young," said Costigan. "But, I've spent a lot of time in concentrated learning environments. I've put myself in a position to learn from the best."

Costigan, born in Ireland but raised in Canada, was one of a select group of international students enrolled at the Irish National Stud program in 2005 and moved on to the prestigious Darley Flying Start program in 2007.

During her two-year stint there, Costigan was able to work with top trainers in the United States, Australia, and Dubai, and after graduating she went on to spend two years as an assistant to trainer Jim Bolger in Ireland.

Roan Inish, a daughter of the stallion Elusive Quality and Bob Costigan's two-time Canadian champion turf mare Inish Glora, was foaled in 2007 and shipped to Ireland's Ballydoyle the following October before coming over to Bolger's yard early last spring. That move evidently has paid huge dividends, even though Roan Inish could muster just a second-place finish from three starts there.

It enabled Costigan to become involved in every aspect of Roan Inish's preparations for a racing career, including riding her almost every day.

Last October, Costigan returned to Canada with Roan Inish, who was her first starter.

Roan Inish got her trainer's career off to a fairy tale beginning by winning the $251,200 Princess Elizabeth here at 1 1/16 miles and then finished second in the seven-furlong Glorious Song.

"It was nice because we were here by ourselves," said Costigan. "At that point, you realize that you were really out of the fold."

Following a break in Kentucky and winter at San Luis Rey Downs, where Costigan had a half-dozen horses for her father, Roan Inish returned to Woodbine with an eye toward both the Woodbine Oaks and the Queen's Plate.

"She's given me no reason to ever question that plan," said Costigan. "Everything has gone very well. I wouldn't change a day, so far.

"She's only raced twice this year, and I can only see her improving off the Oaks. She's very competitive, and very aggressive."

Roan Inish began her 2010 campaign here May 1 with a second-place finish in the seven-furlong Fury, and Costigan initially had planned to use the 1 1/16-mile La Lorgnette three weeks later as a final Oaks prep.

But then Costigan called an audible, deciding that she would train Roan Inish up to the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, and the filly verified her trainer's acumen with a hard-fought head victory under her Irish import rider David Moran.

Costigan had been confident that Roan Inish would be up to the task off a six-week layoff due to her close association with the filly, much of which comes from riding her during all her morning exercises, including workouts.

"One of the pieces of advice Jim Bolger passed on to me was that it was important that you know where your horses are at, and the best way to do that is to get on them yourself whenever you can," said Costigan.

"Otherwise, you don't know how they're feeling. They could be off somewhere, maybe in the back, and need some chiropractic work.

"I'm not at the stage like the veteran trainers where I can have my own exercise riders, who know how I think and can tell me what I need to know."

Costigan's approach also led her to do most of Roan Inish's morning work on the dirt training track here rather than the main Polytrack surface.

"It's a bit heavier, and I think it's easier to get them fitter," said Costigan. "But, she's fit enough now.

"She walked the day after the Oaks, but she hasn't had a day off since then. She's been relaxing, doing some nice, long gallops."

Roan Inish's final works for the Oaks and Plate both came on the Polytrack after rain made the training track unfit for use.

Costigan, who partnered Roan Inish through last Sunday's 48.60-second breeze, was pleased that the filly had gone on to work on her own after some initial prompting by her stablemate and half-brother Bru Boru.

"The company gives her interest," said Costigan. "But she's matured enough now that she can do her work by herself."

Now, the trainer believes she has done all she can to get Roan Inish to give her best when she faces males at the longer distance for the first time on Sunday.

"Hopefully, I've conditioned her mentally and physically, so she can do that," said Costigan. "After that, it's up to the jockey."

That would be Moran, who had become familiar with Roan Inish through his role as Bolger's second rider in Ireland and has journeyed across the pond for the Princess Elizabeth and her two starts this year.

"He's very excited," said Costigan.

So are Costigan's parents, Bob and Nora, who have joined their daughter for the whirl of Queen's Plate week.

The trainer herself, however, appears to have the composure of one beyond her years.

"You can't really afford to get wrapped up in it," said Costigan. "There are so many details that can't be missed.

"And, at the end of the day, it's just a horse race."