06/18/2003 12:00AM

Trial the key Plate prep


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The three most recent runnings of the $1 million Queen's Plate, North America's oldest continuously run stakes race, have yielded some unconventional results.

Scatter the Gold, a blue-blooded Sam-Son Farm runner, won the 2000 Plate as a maiden, and his full sister Dancethruthedawn became the 33rd filly to win the race in 2001. Last year, T J's Lucky Moon returned the second highest price in the race's 143-year history ($166) when he prevailed after having won his maiden in his previous start.

This year's Plate, held Sunday at Woodbine, should be a formful one. It features two brilliant sons of Grade 1 winner Langfuhr, Wando and Mobil. Both are owned by Gustav Schickedanz and trained by Mike Keogh, but they will be separate betting interests because there are no couplings in stakes races worth $100,000 or more at Woodbine.

Wando, a front-runner, will try to buck several trends in the race, if he employs an aggressive approach. Since 1980, only two horses have led throughout the 1 1/4-mile race - Son of Briartic in 1982 and Peteski in 1993.

Stalkers have had the most success in the Plate during the last 10 years, winning on six occasions and finishing second twice. Three closers were victorious and six were second during that time period, while one front-runner was second.

Wando is running five weeks after winning his last prep race, the 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes, a historical negative. Eight horses in the last five years have tried to win the Plate while returning from a layoff of at least five weeks, and none hit the board, including last year's favorite, Ford Every Stream, who finished fourth.

Victor Cooley (1996) was the last Marine winner to go directly to the Plate and win, but he accomplished the feat when the Marine was run a month before the Plate.

Wando earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103 in the Marine, easily the highest in the Plate field. Despite the reservations his connections have regarding his ability to get this distance, Wando should be tough to catch if he doesn't get softened up in a speed duel.

Todd Kabel, who has ridden Wando and Mobil in all their starts this year, predicts a quick pace Sunday.

"I think the Plate is run the same way every year," Kabel said. "You get a bunch of them rocketing out there, and then you have the come-from-behinders. The trip means everything in the race."

The nine-furlong Plate Trial Stakes has been the most successful Plate prep in recent years, but the Trial winner hasn't turned the trick since Alydeed in 1992. Since 1993, four second-place finishers in the Trial have gone on to take the Plate - Peteski, Basqueian, Archers Bay, and Woodcarver.

In a solid effort over a wet-fast track, Mobil captured this year's Trial by 1 1/2 lengths over Rock Again. Mobil hasn't finished behind a rival in his six most recent outings, and should be favored Sunday, partly because Kabel chose him over Wando.

It is widely believed that jockey Eibar Coa moved Rock Again too soon in the Trial. Rock Again seized command at the top of the stretch and then drifted to the rail before being overhauled by Mobil. Rock Again, the likely third choice in the betting, is by 1997 Plate winner Awesome Again, and out of crack sprinter Track Gal.

Arco's Gold, who finished in a dead heat for win with Mobil before winning last year's Coronation Futurity via the disqualification of Mobil, and Shoal Water are both coming into the Plate following just one race this year. No horse has won the Plate with only one previous start that year since the race was moved to Woodbine in 1956.

A maiden is slated to compete Sunday, Dance Engagement. Aside from Scatter the Gold, the only maiden to win the Plate since 1956 was Golden Choice in 1986.

Dance Engagement finished fourth in his May 18 debut, and was making just his second start when he finished second in the June 8 Victoria Park Stakes. In recent years, the only runner to capture the Plate in just his third start was Awesome Again.

From a historical perspective, the two most likely winners of this year's Plate are Mobil and Rock Again, because of their ability to stalk the pace and because of their success in the Trial.