06/20/2005 11:00PM

Trio from States up to take shot

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Three in the Bag, placed first via DQ in the Plate Trial, breezes four furlongs Tuesday morning at Woodbine under jockey Robert Landry.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - There is no question that the Queen's Plate is the prize most coveted by owners, breeders, trainers, and jockeys in Canada. On occasion, however, the Plate prize has fallen to connections based south of the border, and this year three American-owned and -based horses will be among the expected field of nine Canadian-bred 3-year-olds in the 1 1/4-mile race on Sunday.

The two most recent American-based winners had owners with strong Canadian connections. Archers Bay, the 1998 winner, was trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, but his principal owner was Eugene Melnyk. Awesome Again, the 1997 Plate hero, was trained by David Hofmans and ridden by Mike Smith, but was owned by Frank Stronach.

This year, the three Plate contenders headquartered in the United States - King of Jazz, Wild Desert, and Three in the Bag - are American in everything but birthplace. A fourth American-owned Plate horse, Get Down, is stabled here and trained by Canadian Nancy Triola but is approximately 80-percent owned by a New Jersey-based syndicate.

Lou Cauz, Queen's Plate historian and author, said it is unusual to have such a heavy American influence in the Plate.

"There's been the odd American-owned horse," said Cauz, "but it's incredible to have this many in one field."

The significance of the Queen's Plate certainly is not lost on the connections of this year's invaders.

"We know it's the Canadian version of the Kentucky Derby, and that it's a very prestigious race up there," said Ian Wilkes, assistant to Carl Nafzger, who trains King of Jazz at his Churchill Downs base. "I think for anyone to win it would be a great honor."

Considering the credentials of the American horses, a good chunk of the $1 million Queen's Plate purse could be heading south Sunday evening.

King of Jazz has won his last two starts, a maiden race at Keeneland and a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Churchill Downs. He is owned by Buckram Oak Farm, trained by Carl Nafzger, and will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano.

Bejarano will be competing in Canada for the first time. Nafzger's last Woodbine starter was in 1991.

Wild Desert hasn't raced since finishing eighth in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby in April. Before that he finished second, beaten a half-length, in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park. He is owned by Daniel Borislow and partners, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., and will be ridden by Pat Valenzuela. Bobby Frankel actually will be Wild Desert's trainer of record for the Plate, as Dutrow is under suspension. Valenzuela's only Woodbine appearance was a second-place finish aboard Falcon Flight in the 2002 Canadian International.

King of Jazz and Wild Desert are not scheduled to arrive at Woodbine until later this week.

Three in the Bag is the only one of the three to have raced in Canada, having won the June 5 Plate Trial here upon the controversial disqualification of Dances With Ravens. He won his maiden in March at Gulfstream and finished second in a Belmont allowance in May. Three in the Bag is owned by the Castletop Stable of Mort Topfer and his wife, Bobbi, and is trained by Stanley Hough, currently based in New York. Before the Trial, Hough's most recent Woodbine starter dated back to 1998.

Three in the Bag has stayed on at Woodbine and breezed twice since the Plate Trial, including four furlongs in 48.40 seconds here Tuesday. While that is not enough to qualify him as a local, Three in the Bag does offer Canadian content in the form of rider Robert Landry, who was aboard for the first time in the Trial.

Landry's participation, however, is counterbalanced by the presence of a third imported jockey, as Get Down will be ridden by the New-York-based Richard Migliore.

Three in the Bag and King of Jazz were supplemented to the Plate for $15,000 at the final nominations stage May 15, while Wild Desert and Get Down were supplemented for $7,500 on Feb. 1.

There are at least two tried-and-true Canadian candidates who are capable of keeping the bulk of the riches away from the carpetbaggers.

Gold Strike, the only filly in the field, is coming off an impressive victory in the Labatt Woodbine Oaks, while Dance With Ravens will be looking for redemption for his Plate Trial disqualification, which is under appeal to the Ontario Racing Commission.

Gold Strike will be looking to become the fifth filly to pull off the Oaks-Plate double, the most recent being Dancethruthedawn in 2001 and Dance Smartly in 1991, both Sam-Son Farm homebreds.

Dances With Ravens, looking to become the become the fifth Queen's Plate winner for Sam-Son, has an impeccable pedigree, being by A.P. Indy out of Dance Smartly.

His trainer, Mark Frostad, said he is not surprised by the American presence in the Plate.

"If you have a horse that happens to be Canadian-bred and is running well, you'll have to get up here," said Frostad.


Queen's Plate
$1 million; Canadian-bred 3-year-olds; 1 1/4 miles; Sunday, June 26

AbloR. AttfieldG. Olguin126
Dance With RavensM. FrostadT. Kabel126
Get DownN. TriolaR. Migliore126
Gold StrikeR. BakerJ. McAleney121
GraniqueA. FehrC. Fraser126
King of JazzC. NafzgerR. Bejarano126
Runnaway MonM. CasseE. Ramsammy126
Three in the BagS. HoughR. Landry126
Wild DesertB. FrankelP. Valenzuela126