Queen's Plate Race Report: Simply Wando-ful
Gus Schickedanz has never been a man of many words, and often considers himself lucky when it comes to his success as one of Canada's leading Thoroughbred owners and breeders. But there was no mistaking the proud grin the German-born Schickedanz sported just minutes after his homebred colts Wando and Mobil, both sons of his stallion Langfuhr, finished an emphatic first and second, respectively, in the 144th Queen's Plate at Woodbine.
And it was Wando who dropped jaws in the grandstand and along press row when he took off in the stretch to win the $1-million (Canadian funds, about U.S. $735,000) Canadian classic by nine lengths, the second-biggest margin in a decade.
The victory by the coppery-colored, muscle-bound Wando in the June 22 Plate came as a mild surprise, not to the shrewd bettors in the crowd who hammered the morning-line second choice down to 7-5, but to jockey Todd Kabel, who chose to ride Mobil in the days preceding the Plate.
Kabel had won two stakes on both colts this spring but the long-striding Mobil had won the nine-furlong Plate Trial Stakes under the Plate weight of 126 pounds. Wando had not raced in five weeks and hadn't convinced trainer Mike Keogh that he would appreciate the 1 1/4-mile Plate trip.
And so it was Patrick Husbands, Kabel's arch rival for leading jockey at Woodbine, who picked up the mount on Wando. To the 30-year-old Barbadian, it was like winning the lottery.
"I knew he was the best horse inthe race," said Husbands, who collected his first Plate win since coming to Canada nine years ago. "All the smart people on the backstretch knew this horse was a winner from the time the entries came out."
The Plate unfolded pretty much as predicted, with Wando tugging Husbands to the lead soon after the start.
"Patrick and I had spoken before the race and we decided we weren't going to fight him," said Keogh, the longtime private trainer for Schickedanz who opened a public stable this year.
Husbands allowed Wando to scamper away to a clear lead around the first turn and sat motionless as the colt clicked off fast splits of :23.04, :46.67, and 1:11.93.
Mobil, who bobbled at the start, was under a hard ride early and never looked comfortable as he chased his stablemate into the stretch.
Stronach Stable's Rock Again, a son of 1997 Plate winner Awesome Again, started a rally on the turn, but by the time that talented colt moved into third, Wando was long gone.
"When I got to the wire (the first time) I had a really good hold of him," Husbands said. "Then I just turned him loose. Nobody wanted to go with us because everybody wanted to get a check. I got everything my own way from the three-quarter pole and then it was just a matter of how far he'd win by."
Wando's time of 2:02.48 was just three ticks off Izvestia's Plate record. Schickedanz pocketed $800,000 from the purse, not including the Canadian breeder awards that will follow.
The successes of Wando and Mobil, both stakes winners as juveniles, have been a tonic for Schickedanz, who has battled back from several strokes in the last few years.
Last fall, the 74-year-old began to cull his impressive broodmare band, although there were 20 matings for his longtime farm manager Lauri Kenny to organize this spring.
"This is a wonderful day for us, one-two," said Schickedanz. "What more can I say."
Wando is the third foal from Schickedanz' graded stakes-winning mare Kathie's Colleen, who won the Monmouth Oaks (gr. II) in 1995. The mare has a 2-year-old full sister to Wando named Six Sexy Sisters, named for Wando's exercise rider, Louise McDonald, and her family.
The next target for Wando is the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 20.
FREE TO RUN
Sam-Son Farm's freakishly fast Soaring Free won his third consecutive race and first turf outing in the $286,500 Nearctic Handicap (Can-IIT) on the quality packed Plate undercard.
Trained by Mark Frostad, Soaring Free has been virtually unbeatable since the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike was gelded over the winter.
The horse sped away in the stretch to win the Nearctic by 3 1/4 lengths over Solitary Dancer and California invader Nuclear Debate in course-record-equaling time of 1:07.73 for six furlongs.
Owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk won the other two supporting stakes. Graded stakes winner Harmony Lodge, trained by Todd Pletcher, galloped to a 5 1/2-length romp in the $108,000 Sweet Briar Too Stakes (named for Langfuhr's dam), and the Tony Reinstedler trained 3-year-old Moonshine Hall, under Husbands, rallied to win the Charlie Barley Stakes, a $112,000 mile race on the turf.