Monday, June 7, 2010

Queen's Plate Profiler: The Versatile Artic Fern

Artic Fern had a rather shy beginning to the Queen’s Plate trail finishing second in his lone start as a two year-old while battling shin issues. The Mike Keogh fellow goes by the barn name of “Bobby”, after the timid Howie Mandel character from the cartoon Bobby’s World.

“When I first started riding him all the other horses were geldings and he was a colt and had to be in a paddock on his own,” explained “Bobby’s” one-time exercise rider Kevin Pasher. And then putting on his best Howie Mandel impression Pasher added, “I would get up to ride him in the morning and ask the other horses ‘would you be my friend’. But now he’s gelded and made a few more friends.”

You got a friend in me - Kevin Pasher and Artic Fern ham it up

The Langfuhr gelding has certainly made new friends at the ticket window. Artic Fern opened his 2010 campaign with a smart victory over touted Sam-Son Farms runner Dark Cloud Dancer at odds of 10-1 on April 17th and followed that performance with a surprise two and a quarter length victory over the much-hyped Mobilizer on May 23rd at odds of 6-1.

Artic Fern is one of two Queen’s Plate contenders in Keogh’s barn, the other being Mobil Unit, and it is telling how much Artic Fern has improved given that the 2010 Queen’s Plate winter book listed Mobil Unit at 12-1 while his quiet stable mate was offered at a generous 250-1.

Trainer Mike Keogh and Mobil Unit

In speaking with Keogh at his barn back in early May on a stormy morning, the conditioner spoke cautiously about his two star three year-olds.

“Mobil Unit just ran at the weekend (finishing 5th on May 9th.) We had to take chips out of his knee last year so he got a late start to training,” stated Keogh. “That’s the only thing that concerns me with him. Also his form looks better on the turf and I’m not so sure he’s not a better turf horse. I think we’ll still point him that way and see.”

Artic Fern and groom Kevin Adams

Keogh’s assessment of Mobil Unit as a turfer proved true when he ran the Mobil gelding in the Bold Ruckus Stakes this past weekend. Mobil Unit would finish eighth over a yielding course and appears to be off the Plate trail for now.

Artic Fern and Pasher pose for the camera

In hindsight, Keogh seemed optimistic about Artic Fern’s chances for the Queen’s Plate.

“The other little guy, Artic Fern, I was very impressed with his first race against the highly regarded Sam-Son horse (Dark Cloud Dancer) so it looks good on him,” said Keogh. “He worked back well so I’ve got some high hopes for him but whether he can go that far is another matter.”

Wando wins the 2003 Queen's Plate for trainer Mike Keogh

Keogh has won the Queen’s Plate twice previously with Woodcarver in 1999 and Wando in 2003, the latter going on to win the Canadian Triple Crown. Keogh would not compare Artic Fern’s running style to that of Wando.

“They’re all individuals and just because you win it a couple times doesn’t mean you can train them the same way,” stated Keogh. “They’re all different. Race wise with Wando I had a plan as I wanted to be six weeks out at the Plate - win the Marine and then six weeks to the Plate but these guys (Mobil Unit and Artic Fern) didn’t get to run as well. Artic Fern only ran once as a two year-old so the schedule is a little tighter for me and I didn’t want to run him in the Queenston because i think that’ll be way too tough for his second start. So I ‘m gonna duck that and there’s an allowance race the following week going two turns. I was hoping there would be a seven furlong race the same day as the Queenston but there wasn’t.”

At the end of the rainbow, you'll find the hind end of Artic Fern

While Essence Hit Man romped the Queenston on May 15th, Artic Fern bided his time and waited for a May 23rd allowance event which he won comfortably by two and a quarter lengths once again on the engine as Mobilizer closed in vain. Artic Fern earned a 97 Beyer figure in a dominant display.

Artic Fern leads the field through the stretch as Mobilizer chases..

Keogh enjoyed Artic Fern's effort that day and watched the replay from the rail with owner/breeder Gus Shickendanz who was recently elected to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

"I was very pleased with it, he did all the donkey work," smiled Keogh on the day. "He's still a little green but he galloped out very well."

At the wire it's Artic Fern by a comfortable margin over Mobilizer

The May 23rd victory dismissed any questions that might have existed regarding the class of Artic Fern but it also opened the gelding up to the query of whether or not he needed the lead to succeed. A question well worth asking given Essence Hit Man’s rumble in the Queenston and the emergence of fast filly Embur’s Song.

Artic Fern defeats Mobilizer in a 1/16M Allowance event

Keogh addressed the topic on that rainy May morning on the backstretch.

“He works in behind horses,” said Keogh. “I’ve worked him 3/4 of a mile twice now on the training track and I’ve worked him in behind horses and then let him come and join them down the lane and finish up with them. He’s done it very well. I don’t know if he can do it in the afternoon as he breaks so sharply from the gate. He leaves there like a rocket so we’ll have to wait and see on that.”

Happy connections pose with the gelded son of Langfuhr

The conditioner had to wait until June 5th for a response but the answer was well worth the wait. In a six horse field routing a mile and a sixteenth, Artic Fern was content to stalk the lead of the tough True Metropolitan through fractions of 24.1, 48 and 1:12. As True Metropolitan led the field through the final turn, jockey David Clark asked Artic Fern for more and his charge responded easily dismissing the field in a time of 1:44.3.

Artic Fern stalks to victory over True Metropolitan

The win goes a long way toward convincing potential backers of Artic Fern’s versatility under a potentially flammable Plate pace. But even back in May, Keogh wasn’t that concerned about leading the pack.

“My two Plate winners were on the lead, right,” shrugged Keogh. “It’s not the be all and end all.”

Perhaps more important than pace scenario is that Artic Fern’s pedigree appears to stand the test of class as well. His sire, Langfuhr, provided Plate winner Wando and his dam, Wood Fern, is a full sister to the Plate winner Woodcarver.

A race so nice, they'll watch it twice - Owner/Breeder Gus Schickendanz and trainer Mike Keogh enjoy the replay of Artic Fern's win over Mobilizer

The Epsom born conditioner, and avid West Ham supporter, has enjoyed several splashes of success at Woodbine with a trio of stallions in Langfuhr, Wando and Mobil for owner/breeder Gus Schickendanz. On July 4th, Keogh will look to complete a triple of another sort when Artic Fern tries to become his third Queen’s Plate winner. Should the stars align, writers could well make mention of how good things come in threes as Keogh and Shickendanz share two Plate wins with Woodcarver and Wando while their jockey David Clark already a winner of two Plates with Fiddle Dancer Boy and the filly La Lorgnette seek a classic hat trick.

To be sure, Keogh won't care if the race is won on the lead or from out of the clouds.

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For more on the 2010 Queen's Plate including profiles of Captain Canuck, Roan Inish, Essence Hit Man, Race For Gold and Big Red Mike click on the link to view TripleDeadHeat's Plate Contender page.

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