Updated on 09/15/2011 12:27PM

Win City takes on Plate royalty

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Michael Burns
Team Win City (from left): Bob Tiller, Win City, Constant Montpellier, and Frank DiGiulio Jr.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - There are many who believe Sunday's $1 million Queen's Plate at Woodbine will boil down to a match race between the gelding Win City and the filly Dancethruthedawn.

Win City has won the last three stakes steppingstones to the $1 million Plate, including the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial here June 2, while Dancethruthedawn enters the Plate off a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Labatt Woodbine Oaks here June 9.

The two have never met, and there is little to choose between their relative merits heading into the Queen's Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, which is the oldest annually run stakes in North America and the most revered prize in Canadian horseracing.

The background of the Plate's principal protagonists, however, could not differ much more radically.

Dancethruthedawn, a Sam-Son Farm homebred, is a daughter of Mr. Prospector. That stallion commanded a $250,000 stud fee at the time he was bred to Dancethruthedawn's dam, Dance Smartly.

Win City, bred by Frank DiGiulio Jr. and his father, Frank, who died last month, is a son of Slew City Slew. That stallion's stud fee was $5,000 when he was bred to Winsfordan, dam of Win City.

Dance Smartly is one of the most famous horses ever to grace the Canadian racing scene, a daughter of the top stallion Danzig, who stands for $150,000 in Kentucky.

In 1991 Dance Smartly rolled through the Canadian Triple Crown, defeated males again in the Molson Million, and capped an undefeated campaign by becoming Canada's first Breeders' Cup winner in the Distaff. She retired with earnings of $3,263,836.

Winsfordan is a daughter of Domasca Dan, who stands for $1,500 in Ontario. She was bred by the DiGiulios and retired a stakes-placed winner of four races and $107,359.

The Sam-Son outfit is a household name on the North American racing scene, with Breeders' Cup Turf winner Chief Bearhart joining Dance Smartly and Sky Classic as Eclipse Award winners. The stable is perennially among the leaders in North America and has been dominating the stakes program again here recently.

Mark Frostad, who took out his trainer's license in 1989 and has trained the Sam-Son string since 1994, already has won three Sovereign Awards. He has had seven Queen's Plate starters and sent out Victor Cooley to win the 1996 running of the Plate for Windways Farm and Scatter the Gold to win the 2000 edition for Sam-Son.

This year, in addition to Dancethruthedawn, he'll be running the up-and-coming Lucky Scarab, a well-bred gelding by Kris S. out of Queen of Egypt.

Bob Tiller, a licensed trainer since 1973, has been the leader in races won at several Ontario meetings, including Woodbine's in 1994 and 1997, and is closing in on 1,000 career victories. But he has yet to win a Sovereign Award, although he was a finalist for outstanding trainer in 1994 and 1995.

Tiller, 51, also has had seven Queen's Plate entrants, with Near the High Sea's second-place finish in 1975 for owners Jack Laist and Earl Fryman his highest placing.

He and the DiGiulios enjoyed a thrill-packed ride on the Queen's Plate trail with Domasca Dan, who was claimed for $32,000 as a 2-year-old and was edged by Kinghaven Farm star With Approval when third in the Queen's Plate and second in the Prince of Wales in 1989.

Tiller has had success south of the Canadian border, but on a much more modest scale than Sam-Son.

His major U.S. victories came with Domasca Dan, who won the Jamaica at Belmont in 1989, eight years after he had sent out Tonalist to win the Post-Deb at Monmouth.

All of which would make a Queen's Plate victory all the sweeter for Tiller, who was born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1949.

"I'd love to win a Queen's Plate, and a Sovereign Award," said Tiller, who saddled his first stakes winner in 1977 when Pres de Tu took the Bold Venture at Greenwood.

"We're not rich people; I can't afford to go to Mr. Prospector. Everything I've done, I've done with medium-priced horses, and I've got a lot of my own money invested in them."

Tiller points out that the most he has ever paid for a horse is the $82,000 (U.S.) he spent for Meadow Gem in Ocala, Fla., last March. Meadow Gem, a 3-year-old filly in whom Tiller has a 25 percent ownership stake, is undefeated in two career starts here this spring.

"I had the pleasure of learning from Gord Huntley," said Tiller, referring to the Canadian Hall of Fame trainer who was considered a master at judging a young horse. "I started going to sales with him about a dozen years ago.

"I like to buy young horses, develop them from the word 'go,' and be successful at it. I think that's what makes you an all-around trainer."

Tiller also is not averse to making a deal when if the price is right, having sold such horses as As Indicated, Quest Master, and Urban Distraction to American interests in recent years.

"Everything Bob Tiller has is for sale," he said.

"Except Win City," he adds, smiling.