04/11/2006 11:00PM

Strategies for winning Queen's Plate contest

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The popular Queen's Plate Fantasy Challenge is being contested for the seventh time this year, and is expected to draw around 2,000 entries from throughout North America.

Participants sign up for the contest at Woodbineentertainment.com/fantasy, where they must create a fantasy stable made up runners eligible to the $1 million Plate. Those who accumulate the most points leading up to and including the June 25 Plate win prizes, such as televisions and DVD players.

Participants must select 10 horses, including a stable star, which is the runner they deem to be the most likely Plate winner. They must also select three jockeys and trainers, one from each of three designated groups.

Participants earn 10 points each time one of their horses wins a race in North America, or when one of their trainers or jockeys wins a race with a Plate-eligible runner. However, the majority of points are doled out in a series of designated stakes preps, along with the Plate itself. Players receive a 20 percent bonus any time their stable star earns any points.

The contest commenced April 1, and can be entered at any time until June 11. John Siscos, Woodbine Entertainment's manager of media/community relations, believes players can increase their chances of winning by entering just prior to the first designated prep, the April 22 Woodstock Stakes.

"The best time to enter is in the days just before the first scoring race," Siscos said. "It gives you three extra weeks to help determine the key horses who are going to the Queen's Plate. The points that you lose out on by entering in early April doesn't compare to the value of knowing the 3-year-old picture around the time of the Woodstock. The extra three weeks is a big plus."

Those in the media portion of the contest had to submit their stable by March 30, and their selections are posted on the website. The following are my 10 horses:

Shillelagh Slew (stable star): Mounted a wide rally to finish a close third in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity and seems like a suitable candidate to handle the 1 1/4-mile Plate distance. Trainer Mike DePaulo is excited about the colt's physical development going from age 2 to 3.

Bad Hat: Another DePaulo-trained colt who wintered in Florida. He won all three of his 2-year-old outings, and prevailed in the Kingarvie Stakes despite running with a quarter crack.

Manor Lodge: A beautifully bred Melynk Stable runner trained by Todd Pletcher, he was a narrowly beaten second after being hard-ridden at Gulfstream in his only start, and could improve going long.

Malakoff: A Stronach Stable maiden with ample potential, he raced wide en route to a runner-up placing in a recent maiden special at Gulfstream.

Wanna Runner: This Bob Baffert-trained horse finished third behind Kentucky Derby favorite Brother Derek and reigning champion 2-year-old Stevie Wonderboy in the Grade 2 San Rafael, before bombing in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. He rebounded with an easy score in the April 1 WinStar Derby, but isn't under serious consideration for the Kentucky Derby. If I could change my team at this point, I would make him my stable star.

Vibank: This rapid colt probably wants no part of 1 1/4 miles, but he should be prominent in Plate prep sprints such as the Woodstock and Queenston Stakes.

Edenwold: Last year's champion 2-year-old, he was a disappointment when he went long in the fall, although he was beaten only two lengths in the Coronation.

Unification: This Darley Stable runner was arguably the best juvenile to compete at Woodbine last year, but he ran three poor races over the winter in Dubai.

Pyramid Park: He was an impressive winner of the Cup and Saucer Stakes on the turf, probably his preferred surface, although he was beaten just a neck in the Coronation.

Pocket Kings: He won his only start, which came going six furlongs, and is entered in an allowance race here Friday. His Grade 2-winning dam was second in the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Oaks.

My trainers are DePaulo, Layne Giliforte, and Ed Freeman. My jockeys are David Clark, Dino Luciani, and Richard Dos Ramos.

Others horses worthy of consideration include Feathered Diamond, Bridgecut, Sail from Seattle, and Lahave.

I try to avoid using fillies, because the only designated race for them is the Woodbine Oaks, but Feathered Diamond is a must-use off her front-running maiden victory over an unbiased Keeneland main track last Saturday.

One successful strategy has been to build a stable around trainer-jockey combinations. For instance, Shillelagh Slew was ridden last year by Luciani and is trained by DePaulo. Using all three of them will maximize your points should Shillelagh Slew go on to do well.

Having the Plate winner on your team is the ultimate goal, though, and if you believe that Wanna Runner is a cinch, then use Baffert as your primary trainer. Wanna Runner's regular rider, Victor Espinoza, is not part of the contest.