06/21/2007 11:00PM

Three in Plate lack seasoning but can run


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Every good race is enhanced by an element of mystery, and Sunday's $1 million Queen's Plate at Woodbine scores high on that count.

The nine-horse field contains three bona fide dark horses - Leonnatus Anteas, Alezzandro, and Daaher - who may appear to lack the requisite preparation but might have enough talent to overcome that obstacle.

Leonnatus Anteas ordinarily would not be considered an unknown quantity, having won three stakes last year in as many starts and being voted Canada's champion 2-year-old.

But Leonnatus Anteas is coming into the Queen's Plate off just one start this year, a second against older rivals in a second-level allowance over seven furlongs on June 3.

"It's tough to say if he's a mile and a quarter fit," said Kevin Attard, who trains Leonnatus Anteas for Knob Hill Stable and the Estate of Steve Stavro. "I think he's at a disadvantage as opposed to the horses he's running against.

"But he's a class horse, and I think he can pull it off just because of that fact."

Leonnatus Anteas justified the faith of his connections when he won the five-furlong Vandal in his debut last August.

"I thought he was going to be a very good horse," said Attard. "Obviously, I wouldn't have run him in that race if I didn't think much of him. But I was kind of surprised by the way he ran, how he handled himself. And he just kind of kept getting better and better from there."

Leonnatus Anteas followed his score in the Vandal, which was run over the inner track while the Polytrack surface was being constructed, with a victory in the Cup and Saucer over 1 1/16 miles of over a yielding grass course.

The colt then capped his perfect campaign with a win in the Coronation Futurity at 1 1/8 miles on the Polytrack.

Shortly thereafter, Leonnatus Anteas was found to have an injury which Attard has declined to specify. Whether the injury occurred during or after the Coronation was never verified.

"After the Cup and Saucer, he had looked a little funny," said Attard. "We had a look at him and couldn't find anything wrong.

"After the Coronation, he was off again a little bit and it took a couple of days to pinpoint where it was coming from. Then we just had to give him time off and let him heal and get better."

Leonnatus Anteas began rehabilitation on the farm in Florida. He began swimming in February and joined Attard at Payson Park in March.

"He started training there, but I decided not to breeze him until I got to Woodbine," said Attard.

Leonnatus Anteas had his first breeze here May 4 and had just five works before his season debut.

"Every time he breezed, it was surprising how much fitness he regained," said Attard. "Things sort of fell in place at the right time and, sure enough, we were at the races."

Leonnatus Anteas threw a scare into his handlers last week when he suffered what was believed to be a touch of heatstroke after working a mile in 1:37.80.

"Obviously, it takes some kind of a toll on a horse," said Attard. "But other than that day, there hasn't been a problem."

Meanwhile, Alezzandro, racing for the same connections as Leonnatus Anteas, heads into the Queen's Plate with just two starts under his belt.

After winning his debut over 6 1/2 furlongs here May 13, Alezzandro came back to run third in the Plate Trial after setting the pace.

"He ran a decent race in the Plate Trial, and I'm kind of pumped on him, actually," said Attard. "Now he's set; he should run the race of his life."

Attard is hoping Alezzandro will not be on the lead in the Queen's Plate but rather sitting third or fourth with Leonnatus Anteas farther back and winding up for one big run.

"The good thing about Leo is that he'll do what you want him to do," said Attard. "I'm not concerned about him settling early.

"If I have any concern, it's about the other horse [Alezzandro] not being able to settle."

Daaher, owned by Shadwell Stable and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his sire, Awesome Again, who won the 1997 Queen's Plate.

Awesome Again finished third in his seven-furlong debut on May 25 of that year, then won his maiden over 1 1/16 miles 11 days later.

Daaher also is coming into the Queen's Plate off just two career starts. He finished eighth at 6 1/2 furlongs on April 19 and then won his maiden over 1 1/16 miles a little more than three weeks later.

A $375,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland's September yearling sale, Daaher came to the racetrack in May of his 2-year-old year and was close to making his debut at Saratoga last summer when misfortune struck.

"He was working, and he chipped his knee," said McLaughlin

After undergoing surgery and following several months of recuperation, Daaher rejoined McLaughlin at Palm Meadows early this winter and was back on the work tab by the end of January.

"He came along great," said McLaughlin. "He's just been training fabulous all year."

Daaher had worked well over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland and his debut there is best forgotten, according to McLaughlin.

"He just broke terribly," said McLaughlin. "He turned left coming out of there and lost all chance. He was 10 lengths behind the field.

"It was the break that got him. It wasn't that he disliked the surface."

Daaher came back with a vengeance in his second start, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 90. He stalked the pace and rallied to a 3 1/4-length victory under Alan Garcia, who has the mount here Sunday.

"He was very impressive," said McLaughlin. "We knew he always wanted to go farther, being by Awesome Again."

Daaher, at the time, was not eligible for the Queen's Plate.

"We'd talked about nominating, every time there was a closing, because we liked him," said McLaughlin. "But, we knew we could put up $25,000 on the day of entries, so we decided to wait.

"When he won his last race like that, and I saw the sheet number, we decided to go."

The fact that Daaher will be traveling around two turns for the first time is far from a concern for McLaughlin.

"It's a big plus," said McLaughlin, who expects Daaher to be forwardly placed in the early stages of the Queen's Plate. "I'm going to let Alan ride his race, but he'll be pretty close to the pace."

Rainford banged up in spill

Apprentice Michelle Rainford avoided serious injury in a dramatic three-horse spill in Woodbine's ninth and final race Thursday.

Rainford's mount, Abira, clipped heels with Evening at the three-eighths pole, and both Rainford and Abira went down. Rose Run, with Steven Bahen aboard, tumbled over the fallen horse, and Na Somsanith came off his mount, Arona, who stayed on her feet.

Bahen and Somsanith both walked away. Rainford suffered an abrasion above her eye and a strained knee, and was off her mounts Friday.

"She'll be back riding in a few days," said Rainford's agent, Al Raymond.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink