06/24/2011 2:11PM

Woodbine: Tiller, Oh Canada fly under the radar in Queen's Plate

Michael Burns
Oh Canada figures to be the fifth choice at probable double-digit odds in the Queen's Plate.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Bob Tiller felt the full glare of the Queen’s Plate spotlight as the trainer of Win City, the enormously popular gelding who finished a close second as the odds-on favorite in the 2001 running of Canada’s most famous horse race.

But Tiller has been heading into this year’s $1 million Queen’s Plate with a much lower profile as the trainer of Oh Canada, who figures to be the fifth choice at probable double-digit odds in the field of 17.

Oh Canada, owned and bred by Tiller’s longtime friend and client Frank DiGiulio, has not seen action since the May 22 Marine Stakes, where he finished third behind leading Queen’s Plate contender Queen’splatekitten in his first try around two turns.

“There’s a big difference between a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and a quarter,” Tiller said. “But he ran well enough to carry on.”

Tiller remains happy with his decision to run Oh Canada in the Marine rather than in the June 5 Plate Trial, giving him extra time coming into the Queen’s Plate.

“We tried it other ways, and it hasn’t worked for us,” Tiller said. “I’ve finished second twice and third twice, but I haven’t won it.”

Tiller has kept Oh Canada on a relatively low-key program, sending him out to breeze five furlongs on his own in solid, but unspectacular, fashion in three consecutive weeks.

“He doesn’t work fast by himself – he needs a horse beside him to wake him up,” Tiller said.

“He’s very relaxed. That’s been the game plan. I hope it’s a good thing.”

Tiller also is making a minor equipment change, putting a small pair of blinkers on Oh Canada for the first time.

“They’re just 1.25-inch cheaters,” Tiller said. “They’re not going to be a big factor one way or the other, but hopefully he’ll be a little more focused.”

Oh Canada also will have a new rider with Emma-Jayne Wilson, winner of the Queen’s Plate aboard Mike Fox in 2007, picking up the mount after leading rider Luis Contreras opted to stay with the filly Inglorious.

Oh Canada wound up with the No. 3 post after Tiller and DiGiulio drew the 13th choice Thursday during the tedious and outmoded two-tier selection process.

The choices at the time were the three inside and two outside posts.

“We were looking to be a bit more outside, but you need a little luck wherever you are,” Tiller said. “I expect Emma to get him a good position.

“Then, it’s just a matter of whether he’s good enough.”

Cotey, Frostad on Plate sidelines

Trainer Dave Cotey will be a spectator when it comes to the Queen’s Plate, but he will have much more than a passing interest in Sunday’s Highlander, a six-furlong turf race that offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $200,000.

Cotey’s candidate for the Highlander is Riding the River, a 4-year-old gelding whom he owns in partnership with Derek Ball and Hugh Galbraith.

After debuting last spring with a romp in a five-furlong, $16,000 maiden claimer, Riding the River went on to work his way through his first two allowance conditions before being soundly beaten when winding up his campaign in the 1 1/8-mile Ontario Derby.

“He had a real good winter,” said Cotey, who had Riding the River at nearby Martinswood Farm and brought him back into the track in mid-February.

Riding the River has resumed his winning ways this spring, beginning with a five-furlong score in a $16,000 starter allowance on the main track.

“He came lucky to get that starter allowance, and it was nice to get a race into him that way,” Cotey said.

“He’s never even galloped on it, but I’d always wanted to try him on turf. Last year, I entered him in a two-turn race, which came off, and he won it.”

Riding the River got his first taste of turf racing here June 5 while competing under the second-level allowance term in a $62,500 optional claimer.

Stalking the pace under Luis Contreras, Riding the River made a bold move to prevail by a neck and then survived a lengthy inquiry.

“He got into all kinds of trouble, and Luis threaded him through,” Cotey said.

“This race is tougher, but I know he has taken to the turf, and he’s 6 out of 8. He knows how to win.”

With Contreras booked on defending Highlander champion Signature Red, Cotey has gone back to Richard Dos Ramos for the Highlander.

Dos Ramos guided Riding the River to his two-turn allowance victory last fall and to his starter allowance score this spring.

Mark Frostad, who has been represented by a total of 18 starters in 11 Queen’s Plates, also will be an onlooker for this year’s running.

But Frostad will have a rooting interest in the race as Strut the Stage, whom he trained for Sam-Son Farm, now stands at stud there and is the sire of Queen’s Plate entrant Head Honcho.

Of more immediate import for Frostad and Sam-Son will be Sunday’s Singspiel as Windward Islands is slated to go postward in that Grade 3, $150,000 race over 1.25 miles of turf.

Windward Islands, a lightly raced 7-year-old gelding, bypassed the 1 3/8-mile allowance prep for the Singspiel here June 3 in favor of Belmont’s Grade 1 Manhattan eight days later.

“The turf came up soft; he never got hold of it,” said Frostad, who had watched Windward Islands finish a distant seventh in the field of nine.

“He had a poor start, took back, and never got in the race. He didn’t get a whole lot out it, so we decided to bring him back in two weeks.”

Chantal Sutherland, in town to ride Pender Harbour in the Queen’s Plate, has picked up the mount on Windward Islands and has a total of seven calls on the 12-race program.

◗ The LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society will be holding its annual auction of Queen’s Plate saddlecloths. The minimum bid for each saddlecloth, which will be autographed by the jockey, is $250. The auction will be up on eBay on Monday.