It is fitting that the historic 150th running of the Queen's Plate would be won by a stable steeped in Woodbine tradition. In front of a capacity crowd, Eurico Rosa Da Silva guided Sam-Son Farms' Eye of the Leopard to a thrilling Queen's Plate victory over Mr. Foricos Two U and Milwaukee Appeal. This marks the fifth victory in this event for Sam-Son Farms who previously captured the Plate with Regal Intention, Dance Smartly, Scatter The Gold and Dancethruthedawn.
Eye of the Leopard valiantly tracked down a front-running Mr. Foricos Two U deep in the lane with long, limber strides to stretch a neck in front and capture the victory. It was a willful victory from a young runner making just his fourth lifetime start showing equal parts courage and athleticism that belie his barn name of Lumpy.
An emotional celebration was kicked off by a tearful Eurico Rosa Da Silva who fought hard to keep it together in the post-race interview with Renee Kierans just seconds after crossing the wire. When Da Silva brought his mount back in front of the Woodbine grandstand an elated Da Silva poured his heart out to the fans pumping his fists, hugging his horse and yelling, "I love you all, I love this horse!" The young colt took it all in stride parading in front of the full-house, ears perked, full of vigor.
The Sam-Son group have had a difficult year but came together as family to celebrate a bitter-sweet victory they attribute to the effort and values of departed family members. "We've had a lot of great moments at the track, but I don't think I've ever had a more emotional day at the track than today," said Mark Samuel, who in tandem with Rick Balaz runs Sam-Son Farms. In the past year, Balaz's wife Tammy Samuel-Balaz and Mark's mother Elizabeth both passed away after a long battle with cancer within two months of each other. Samuel-Balaz, along with trainer Mark Frostad, planned the breeding of Eye of the Leopard and even the colt's name came courtesy of a list supplied by Liza Samuel before her death.
The race itself was a gruelling mile and a quarter raced under a hot sun. Jockey Mike Smith took Mr. Foricos Two U to the lead right out of the gate and fought with Jim McAleney's Reservoir through early fractions of 24.05, 48.11 and 1:12.93. Eye of the Leopard stalked from fourth position in close proximity to the two fillies - Milwaukee Appeal and Tasty Temptation. As Smith urged his mount into the stretch, Da Silva went to work on Eye of the Leopard who rallied wide down the lane and appeared to be drifting towards the grandstand. After the race, Da Silva admitted, "He was running out a little bit, I just did not want to aggravate him...I just kept riding, riding to get the job done." Da Silva's perseverance paid off as Mr. Foricos Two U sprinted along the rail, refusing to give way as the fillies approached on Smith's right side. It was, perhaps, the benefit of being so wide that helped Da Silva at the end as Smith believed his horse didn't know Eye of the Leopard was there. Da Silva was so busy working his horse that he had no time to think of victory. "I was just trying to get the job done," said Da Silva. "I was so focused on my horse I couldn't think about winning."
In the shadow of the wire, Eye of the Leopard put his neck in front for the win holding off Mr Foricos Two U and a rallying Milwaukee Appeal who made her late run after being boxed in at the top of the stretch. Da Silva is known and loved by the fans for his post-race interview slogan of, "good luck to everybody", but it was his hard work that held together a young horse still learning the game to win the 150th Queen's Plate.
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What follows is a photo recap of Queen's Plate Day at Woodbine Racetrack.
(As always, double left-click the photo to enlarge and click on your "Back" button to return to the blog.)
Hats Off To Fashionable Woodbine!
Mr. Nightlinger was in town for the Highlander Stakes
Smart Enough Hits The Wire in Front of Field Commission to win the Highlander
A Big, Beautiful Smile From Chantal Sutherland
A Five-Horse Field Leaps Out of the gate in the Singpsiel Stakes
Musketier and Jono Jones Hit The Wire Lengths in Front to win the Singspiel
In a funny moment following the race, Musketier refused to walk into the winners circle. Finally, trainer Roger Attfield and crew pushed the horse backwards into the circle to get his photo taken. I believe it was Attfield who quipped, "He can back into the photo as long as goes forward on the track!"
A well deserved bath for Musketier
Stacy Clark-Rogers Checks Out The Contenders
Your 2009 Queen's Plate Jockeys
Meet The Blacks! Team Southdale Wins in the Style Category
The statue of Avelino Gomez holds court over the crowded Woodbine paddock
Heather Takahashi, owner of Shadowless, makes a stunning paddock appearance.
The pretty filly, Tasty Temptation, tempts bettors with her paddock viewing.
Stewart Elliott leads Milwaukee Appeal to the track
A focused Eurico Rosa Da Silva and Eye of the Leopard
Tyler Pizarro and Bucephalus in the Plate post parade.
Keino West made a late run to finish sixth
A crowded grandstand waits with anticipation
At the wire, Eye of the Leopard spots an opening to win by a neck
Mike Smith leads a brave Mr. Foricos Two U back to trainer Catherine Day-Phillips
Eureka! Eurico Parades Eye of the Leopard along the grandstand
The Champ Is Here!
All For One, And One For All!
Eurico and Wife Claudia Celebrate
Da Silva Bear Hugs Track Announcer Dan Loiselle
The People's Champion - Eurico Rosa Da Silva
Good Luck To Everybody!!