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Queen's Plate-winning trainer Nick Gonzalez went 5 for 8 during the week of June 30-July 4 and vaulted into a tie for fourth in the standings with 19 wins. Leading trainer Mark Casse was 4 for 20 and has 32 wins from 203 starters.
Other hot trainers included Nick DeToro (2 for 2), Marty Drexler (2 for 3), and Mike DePaulo (2 for 4).
Chantal Sutherland and apprentice Omar Moreno led all jockeys with seven wins apiece from June 30 through July 4. Queen's Plate-winning rider Eurico Da Silva registered six victories and is tied atop the standings with Patrick Husbands. They both have 60 wins, but Da Silva did so with 47 fewer mounts than Husbands's 348.
Steve Asmussen, who is tied for second in the trainer standings with Reade Baker, was shut out with 10 starters from June 30 through July 4. Six of those runners hit the board, but most of them were strongly backed in the betting.
A biased track is often good for serious trip handicappers because it can give them an edge on the "weekend warriors" who haven't done their homework. The Polytrack was wildly inconsistent from June 30-July 4, and those who keep tabs on who ran with and against the bias should reap the rewards when these horses run back.
Wednesday, June 30: The inside was the place to be on this evening card. Five of the seven Polytrack winners had an inside trip, including longshot Cozy Cabin, who rallied along the rail on the far turn to prevail under Justin Stein, the closest thing to Calvin Borel at Woodbine. The two outside winners were the closing Esporon and the stalking Step On Up.
Thursday, July 1: In sharp contrast to the previous night, all eight Polytrack winners raced outside most of the way, scoring from either a stalking or closing position. Granted, most of the riders stayed way off the rail on the backstretch, as usual, but nobody rode the inside two paths to victory. Horses who competed against the bias included Southdale, who finished third as the favorite in the Dominion Day; Waccamaw; Pretty Miss Trippi; Lady Elena; Gabriel's Hill; and Brigadier Rodney.
Friday, July 2: The Polytrack seemed fair.
Saturday, July 3: Front-runners took six of the eight Polytrack events, and the other two races were won by a stalker and a closer. Horses who made up some ground over the speed-conducive surface included Skootin, Race for Gold, Great Home, Naval Attack, and Highland Flare, who won the last race.
Sunday, July 4: It's not easy to quantify the bias on Queen's Plate Day, but even Queen Elizabeth must have noticed that speed was dominant and that the inside was a little better than the outside. The eight Polytrack races produced five front-running winners, most notably Big Red Mike, who was allowed to set slow fractions in his Plate victory. Two stalkers found the mark, and one closer got the job done. Horses who ran against the speed bias included Kissed by a Ghost, Civil Code, Ronaldino, and Roan Inish, the Woodbine Oaks winner who finished third in the $1 million Plate.
QUEEN'S PLATE RECAP
For the third year in a row, the winner of the nine-furlong Plate Trial Stakes captured the Queen's Plate.
Big Red Mike, the 5-1 third choice in the 13-horse field, went right to the front under Eurico Da Silva and set tepid fractions of 24.43 seconds, 49.39, and 1:14.31 on a track that was kind to speed. The talented Hotep pressed Big Red Mike through the far turn, but Big Red Mike established a clear lead at the head of the stretch en route to a 1 1/2-length win. The winning time for 1 1/4 miles was 2:04.89, which translated into a Beyer Speed Figure of 91.
Da Silva also won last year's Plate aboard Hotep's full-brother, Eye of the Leopard.
"I'm proud of both horses," Da Silva said. "The horse last year tried so hard, and this horse was so focused. He tried his best. He ran great. I was galloping along pretty easy around the first turn. When Hotep pressed me, I just tried to nurse him along, and I had a lot of horse turning for home."
Big Red Mike was the first Plate starter for trainer Nick Gonzalez, who recently notched his 1,000th career victory.
"He's a fighter," Gonzalez said. "He showed that when he won the Plate Trial, and he moved forward after he won that race. He looked like he was going pretty comfortable all the way around. He didn't get a real lot of pressure. When they came to him, I knew he'd dig in and fight them off, and that's exactly what he did."
Big Red Mike should be favored in the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at 1 3/16 miles on the dirt July 25 at Fort Erie, where many of Gonzalez's runners are stabled. Big Red Mike's pedigree is dirt-oriented, which doesn't bode well for his chances in the third Triple Crown race, the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Stakes on the grass here Aug. 15.
OTHER NOTABLE EFFORTS
The Bill Mott-trained Hold Me Back turned back a stern challenge from longshot Pool Play to take the Grade 3, $216,400 Dominion Day Stakes under Tyler Pizarro on July 1.
Hold Me Back raced in midpack on the outside in the 1 1/4-mile route, then hit the front early in the stretch before gamely holding off Pool Play to win by a head in 2:03.65. The time was .18 seconds off the Polytrack record. He earned a Beyer Figure of 97.
Hold Me Back, the 12th-place finisher in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and second in the Travers, is arguably at his best on synthetics. He ran big in a pair of Polytrack stakes last year, winning the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway and running second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
Signature Red wore down pacemaker Heros Reward in the stretch under Chantal Sutherland to notch his first stakes in the $204,400 Highlander on July 4. Maryland shipper Heros Reward, the 2008 Highlander winner, set honest fractions in the six-furlong turf sprint, with Signature Red close. Signature Red drew alongside Heros Reward at the top of the stretch, and they duked it out until the final strides. Signature Red won by a neck, finishing in 1:08.17.
Signature Red, trained by Sid Attard, received a 99 Beyer, just shy of the 100 he got for winning the allowance prep for the Grade 2 Highlander.
"He ran his guts out," Attard said. "There was no way he was going to let that horse go by him."
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Mike Keogh
Last race: July 4, 11th
Finish: 1st by 5 1/4
He switched to the turf following a layoff in this seven-furlong maiden special, and blew away the field with a powerful wide rally. A son of 2003 Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando, he could be a factor in the third leg of the Triple Crown, the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Stakes here in August.
Trainer: Steve Attard
Last race: July 2, 1st
Finish: 2nd by 6 3/4
A 2-year-old Langfuhr colt, he was blocked behind rivals late on the turn and early in the stretch before finishing second to a runaway winner in a $62,500 maiden claimer. He should be more effective when the baby races stretch out.
Trainer: Darwin Banach
Last race: July 2, 2nd
Finish: 1st by 2 1/4
He missed some training before he graduated on the front end in this two-turn maiden special on the Poly. A nicely bred 4-year-old colt by Distorted Humor, he is well regarded by his trainer and could have a productive future on Polytrack and the grass.
Trainer: Paul Attard
Last race: July 1, 5th
Finish: 2nd by 3/4
He prevailed in a three-way pace battle before giving way grudgingly in a $50,000 maiden claimer on the grass. It was his first appearance in more than two months, and he appears to be going in the right direction after beginning his career with three straight double-digit losses.