06/23/2017 10:06AM

Trainer says Megagray can handle Queen's Plate distance

Michael Burns
Megagray trains at Woodbine for the Queen’s Plate, which at 1 1/4 miles will be a distance test.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Queen’s Plate contender Megagray will face a stamina test in the $1 million race over 1 1/4 miles on Tapeta at Woodbine on July 2, but it’s a test that trainer Mike Keogh believes the colt can handle.

“I really believe he’ll get the mile and a quarter,” he said. “I’m happy with him. I think he deserves a shot.”

A win by Megagray would give Keogh and owner and breeder Gustav Schickedanz their third Queen’s Plate win together, following scores with Woodcarver in 1999 and Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando in 2003. In the 2003 Queen’s Plate, Keogh and Schickedanz also had Mobil, who finished second. Keogh said Schickedanz is excited to have his first Queen’s Plate starter since Sweet Grass Creek in 2015.

“We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s great for Mr. Schickedanz. He loves it. I’ve had a lot of fun seeing him enjoy it so much.”

The Queen’s Plate will be the fifth start of Megagray’s career. He debuted in a seven-furlong sprint on turf last August, finishing seventh. Despite the horse starting slowly and finishing 11 lengths behind the winner, Keogh was encouraged by what he saw late in the race.

“He ran very green,” he said. “He never really got into the race until the eighth pole, but then he finished up nice.”

Keogh said he has always believed that Megagray is a two-turn horse, and he proved his trainer correct in his second start last September, winning a maiden special weight over 1 1/16 miles on Tapeta. That was the last race of Megagray’s juvenile season, however, as Keogh discovered an ankle chip following the race.

“We got the chip out of him the next week,” Keogh said. “That’s why he only ran twice.”

Megagray began his preparations for the Queen’s Plate at Keogh’s winter training base at the Aiken Training Center in South Carolina. Keogh said Megagray progressed nicely at Aiken and is set up well for his 3-year-old campaign.

“He did everything well there,” he said. “He’s longer in the back and leaner. He carries his weight well for that kind of build. He has a beautiful stride on him, and I think he has a very good cruising stride.”

Megagray made his 3-year-old debut at Woodbine in the Wando Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on Tapeta on May 7, finishing third behind King and His Court and Tiz a Slam. Megagray could have stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Plate Trial on June 11, but Keogh said he preferred the timing of the Grade 3 Marine Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on May 28 as a final prep for the Queen’s Plate.

“I’ve never really been a fan of the Plate Trial,” he said. “I’ve won it with Mobil, but that’s only because I had to separate him from Wando. Wando won the Marine and had just over five weeks to the Plate. I like the spacing of the five weeks more than the three weeks of the Plate Trial. That’s the reason I went to the Marine with him.”

Megagray found himself seven lengths off the lead early in the Marine and wound up fourth, 8 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Keogh said he would like to see Megagray a little closer to the pace in the Queen’s Plate.

“He’s kind of a lumbering sort,” he said. “He doesn’t have a quick turn of foot, so he’s the kind of horse you’ve got to get going and not get stopped. He’s the type of horse that you can’t get him in trouble. If you have to stop at the three-eighths pole, you’re in big trouble because you can’t quicken and rebound from it.”

Keogh may add blinkers in the Queen’s Plate to help Megagray get into the race earlier. Keogh said Megagray breezed in blinkers June 17 and will breeze one more time with them before Keogh makes a decision.

“He was much more into the work, but I’m still not 100 percent sure I’m going to run him with [blinkers],” he said. “I’m going to work him one more time behind another horse with them on. I just have that fear that when I ran Sweet Grass Creek in the Plate and we put the blinkers on him, he teared off.”