Carlo Tucci and his nephew, Lou Tucci, have talked about their passion, horse racing, for 40 years and worked in the business as partners for more than 10. They understand that for all the preparation, luck is always going to play a role, and Sunday, it came through for an underdog horse running for an underdog stable.
In the draw for post positions on Thursday, the Tuccis had the apparent misfortune of drawing 12th of 12, and had to place Midnight Aria in the only remaining slot, the unenviable No. 1 position, immediately beside the rail.
Fortunes changed two hours before the 154th running of the Queen’s Plate on Sunday, as a deluge of rain arrived in tandem with Governor-General David Johnston. The Woodbine Racetrack polysurface track tightens when wet, favouring so-called speed horses over those that like to hang back and sprint at the end. With much of the field made up of the latter, Midnight Aria jockey Jesse Campbell steered the Ontario-bred three-year-old speedster to a thrilling wire-to-wire victory, the first Plate victory for both Campbell and Tucci Stables, the second for trainer Nick Gonzalez.
“It’s hard to express what you feel when a dream comes true,” Lou Tucci said. “It’s like the seventh game final of the Stanley Cup and scoring the winning goal, times a thousand.”
On behalf of the Tuccis, Gonzalez claimed Midnight Aria for $35,000 on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park. First place in the $1-million race on Sunday was worth $600,000, and the horse paid its backers handsomely: $35.20 at 16-to-1 odds. The favourite, Up With the Birds, finished second, and Dynamic Sky third.
Campbell, 35, grew up in Wisconsin. A jockey since 1995, he “fell in love” with Woodbine and joined the track full-time in 2011, winning the Queen’s Plate in his second try.
“You’ve got to have things go your way in this race,” he said. “You can race the best horse 10 times and not win once. It’s tough to do. The horse was prepared, everything came together, amen. Sometimes you hear the fence isn’t the place to be. I don’t go for it. I was always taught that the fence is the shortest way around the track.”
Sam-Son Farms’ Up With the Birds closed from 12th at the quarter-pole to fourth at the last turn, but a furious charge down the stretch came up short in the 1 1/4-mile run. Midnight Aria had a three-length lead over Dynamic Sky at the turn and finished ahead by 11/2 lengths.
“You only see the one horse, then you go blind and you yell and scream,” said Carlo Tucci, whose best finish in the owner standings was second, five years ago. The pair had another entry, River Seven, in Sunday’s race and had otherwise qualified for the Queen’s Plate just once before, in 2006 with Hot Deputy, a ninth-place finisher.
“They’ve paid their dues, paid their bills, love and have a passion for the sport,” Gonzalez said of the Tuccis. “Any time one of their horses got injured, they found them a good home. They deserve everything they got here today.”
Up With the Birds jockey Eurico da Silva had two prior wins in the Queen’s Plate, with Big Red Mike in 2009 and Eye of the Leopard in 2009. Mark Casse, a five-time winner of the Sovereign Award as trainer of the year in Canada but never a Queen’s Plate champion, had four entries in the race. including Dynamic Sky and fourth-place finisher Spring in the Air.
Aboard Dynamic Sky, Joel Rosario had attempted to become the third jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and Queen’s Plate in one year. “It was hard to beat the horse on the lead, he just kept on going,” Rosario said. “Every time we came up to him, he had another gear.”
Nipissing, the second-seeded filly, fell to 12th place at the three-quarters pole and could only close to eighth.
The Plate generated a handle of $9,739,879 from all sources, a record.