06/24/2005 12:00AM

Strong Plate presence from Manitoba

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It is not unusual that there is a lot of buzz in the air about the Queen's Plate, Canada's most famous race, but a lot of the noise this year is coming from places much farther west than Woodbine.

Three of the 10 horses in the 146th Plate, worth $1 million, were foaled in the province of Manitoba.

No Manitoba-bred has ever won the Plate, and it is rare to even see one in the 1 1/4-mile classic for Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds.

Only two winners in the 145 previous runnings were foaled in western Canada, and both were bred in Alberta.

"There has been a lot of media attention about it here," said Ken Lee of Winnipeg, who bred Plate contender Get Down with his wife, Sandy Lepard. "There's been a story in the paper every day. It's pretty neat."

Lee believes it's a "fluke" that three top 3-year-olds - Get Down, the filly Gold Strike, and Kentucky import King off Jazz - have found their way to the gate for this year's Plate.

Indeed, of the 2,443 foals produced in Canada in 2002, only 120 were foaled in Manitoba.

"There just aren't many of us out here breeding to stallions outside of the province, or selling outside here," said Lee, who mentioned as other high-profile breeders in Manitoba Gary Strath, who is the breeder of King of Jazz, Dr. Ross McKague, and Phil Kivesa.

Get Down, a son of Doneraile Court out of Brilliant Prospect, is one of the first horses bred by Lee and Lepard's Gold Medal Stable.

The couple purchased the mare for just $11,000 at the Keeneland November sale in 2002 (carrying Get Down), and then sold the colt as a yearling at Woodbine the following year for $25,000.

The buyers, Tony Bowling and Bobby Dodd, named the colt and tried to sell him as a 2-year-old the next spring in Florida but after receiving a bid of $37,000, reportedly had the colt returned because of a failed veterinary check.

West Point Thoroughbreds, a U.S. syndicate, now owns the colt, who finished third but was placed second through disqualification in the Plate Trial Stakes three weeks ago.

Lee and Lepard are chartered accountants in Winnipeg and avid students of pedigree. Lee was part of an investors group that took over Assiniboia Downs racetrack in his hometown from a troubled Manitoba Jockey Club, while Lepard is a director of the Manitoba division of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society.

Meanwhile, Gary Strath is not as surprised that there are three Manitoba-breds in the Plate field.

"We're as smart as breeders anywhere else, I think, although it is strange that they all ended up in the same crop," said Strath, who has a 2,000-acre farm in Brandon and manages 1,200 acres of wheat and oat crops.

A seven-year veteran of Thoroughbred breeding, Strath spent $25,000 bringing King of Jazz's dam, Alljazz, from a Woodbine sale to Manitoba.

He bred Alljazz to Kentucky stallion K One King in 2001 and then sold King of Jazz as a yearling for $40,000.

"I don't think I realize how special this is," said Strath about having bred a Plate starter. "It will sink in eventually, I guess."

The other Manitoba-foaled runner in the Plate field is the sensational filly Gold Strike, the Labatt Woodbine Oaks winner who was bred by Calgarian Dick Bonnycastle, owned of Harlequin Ranches.

Gold Strike, a daughter of Smart Strike from a British Columbia-bred mare, began her career at Assiniboia before being transferred to trainer Reade Baker at Woodbine.

Stavro, Squires honored

Steve Stavro, who has Granique in this year's Plate field, was presented with the Blood-Horse Mint Julep Cup on June 20 at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society's Ontario division's annual awards night for 2004 achievements.

Stavro has bred and raced under Knob Hill Stables for 30 years and had such stars as two Horses of the Year, Benburb and Thornfield. He has been a member of the horse society since 1982.

Margaret Squires was honored as breeder of the year despite owning just one mare. That mare, Artic Bleu, produced two stakes winners, Norfolk Knight and Millfleet, for Squires last year.