Long-shot Midnight Aria went wire-to-wire along the rail to win the 154 Queen’s Plate on Sunday afternoon.
Ridden by first-time winner Jesse Campbell, Aria withstood a late charge from Up With the Birds of Sam-Son Farms, the pre-race favourite. Mark Casse-trained horses, Dynamic Sky and Spring in the Air, placed third and fourth respectively.
Midnight Aria, who entered at 16-to-1 odds, is trained by Nick Gonzalez, a second-time winner of the $1-million race for Canadian breds. Gonzalez claimed the horse for $35,000 for owner Tucci Stables on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park. First place on Sunday was worth $600,000.
Many horse in the 12-horse field prefer to hang back and sprint at the end. Campbell exploited the situation by bolting from the first gate into the lead, never relinquishing.
Governor General David Johnston arrived in tandem with monsoon rains about two hour before post time. The RCMP colour guard withstood the rain during the national anthem, as the race-day hats worn by the women in a big crowd took a dousing. The rain softened the turf course so quickly, the ninth race on Sunday’s card, the Highlander Stakes, had to be moved to the poly surface. The Plate was also run on poly.
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 of the 12 starters as he aimed for his first Plate, while Mark Frostad and Malcolm Pierce, both from Ontario, each had two.
Sam-Son’s Up With the Birds has finished third or better in seven career starts; he’d took his previous start by 4-3/4 lengths in the Marine Stakes on May 26. 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.
The filly Nipissing, of Chiefswood Stable and daughter of the 2004 Plate winner Niigon, finished eighth after falling back early and getting caught in traffic. Rachel Halden had been aiming to become the second female trainer to win a Plate, with the horse ridden by her fiancee, Steve Bahen. The jockey had last won a Queen’s Plate in 2002.
Jockey Gary Boulanger, returning to horse racing eight years after almost being killed in a spill, was aboard Spring in the Air.