Midnight Aria goes wire to wire to win soggy Queen's Plate
Dan Ralph , The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, July 7, 2013 6:00PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, July 7, 2013 8:57PM EDT
TORONTO -- Jockey Jesse Campbell took Midnight Aria to the lead to start the $1-million Queen's Plate on Sunday and Mother Nature made sure he stayed there.
The 16-1 longshot went wire-to-wire to capture the first jewel of Canadian thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, holding off determined favourite Up With the Birds for a soggy half-length victory at Woodbine Racetrack. The race was run in light rain following a lengthy downpour that Campbell and winning trainer Nick Gonzalez agreed helped their cause.
"I would say so because the track does tend to get a little tighter," Campbell said following his first career Plate win. "I thought I was going a tick or two slower than what the fractions showed but that was because of the track.
"My horse was so comfortable out there."
Gonzalez added the conditions helped out with getting into an early lead and staying there.
"We never got pressed that hard and to the horse's credit it was very hot and muggy . . . but the horse has very good composure, a good brain and you know, he just did what he's supposed to do and that's why we're standing here."
Governor General David Johnston didn't escape the wet stuff as it started coming down shortly after he arrived in a Rolls Royce convertible. And the deluge forced the $200,000 Highlander Stakes off the turf and to the polytrack but it had no impact on the Plate, which was run on the synthetic surface.
Up With the Birds broke last at the start and was 10th at the three-quarter mile mark. But jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva moved him up to fourth after a mile and into second down the stretch to challenge Midnight Aria.
Da Silva said the weather definitely impacted the race.
"Everything opened up for me but another horse (Midnight Aria) got away from me," he said. "In this rain with his speed, I was really scared of the speed.
"I moved my horse early to try and get a little closer but we could not get there."
The Queen's Plate victory was the second for Gonzalez, who won in 2010 when Big Red Mike went wire to wire also. Midnight Aria claimed the $600,000 winner's share with a time of 2:04.72 in the 1 1/4-mile race.
Dynamic Sky finished third, eight lengths back in North American's oldest continuously run stakes race. The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was: Spring in the Air; Jagger M; His Race to Win; Pyrite Mountain; Nipissing; Kaigun; River Seven; Country Lineman; and Rackman.
Midnight Aria paid $35.20, $13 and $8 while Up With the Bird returned $3.90 and $2.80. Dynamic Sky paid $4.40.
The win was just the second in nine career starts for Midnight Aria, a $35,000 claim at Gulfstream Park in January that prior to Sunday's race had won once and was third four times for his new connections. And that included finishing behind Dynamic Sky and His Race to Win in last month's Plate Trial.
Trainer Mark Casse will again have to wait for his first Plate win. Five times Canada's top conditioner, Casse had four horses in this year's race, including Dynamic Sky, who was ridden by Joel Rosario, North America's top jockey this year.
Casse also sent out Spring in the Air, Kaigun and Jagger M.
"He (Dynamic Sky) took me a little closer to the pace but I didn't think they were going that fast," Rosario said of his mount. "It was hard to beat the horse on the lead, he kept on going.
"I came up to him a little bit on the turn but he kept going. Every time we came to him, he had another gear."
Campbell was very aware da Silva had Up With the Birds coming on strong in deep stretch.
"With the rainy track, I could hear him, I could feel him," Campbell said. "I've been there 15,000 times, you know where they're at but I knew he (Midnight Aria) wasn't going to give up . . . every step closer to that wire with his head in front is good for me.
"I wanted to press the button at the 3-8th pole, which is going to sound like it's too soon but that's this horse. I wanted some separation turning for home. I didn't care about opening up and getting beat at the wire. That's the way I wanted it and it worked. If you're in front, the closer he can see that wire he's going to fight for it and he did."
Yet even with Up With the Birds pressing hard, the 35-year-old Campbell never let himself think about what was at stake until after crossing the finish line.
"I'm a professional . . . I need to do what I do, switch sticks, get down and drive him to that wire," said an emotional Campbell. "Now, saying that, when I hit the wire, yeah, it's a different race.
"I've been working 18 years for this, I'm fourth-generation and this is for my family. This is the Canadian version of the Kentucky Derby. It doesn't really get any bigger than that, right?"
Prior to Sunday's race, Campbell's previous best Plate effort was 17th aboard Okiyama in 2001.
"It's my biggest win and it's a lot of trips around that track," he said. "It's not just the races, either, it's morning, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of spills, a lot of injuries.
"There's no way to describe it."
The second race in the Triple Crown is the $500,000 Prince of Wales States slated for Fort Erie, Ont., on July 30. Running there would be a homecoming for Gonzalez, who resides in Fort Erie and began his career there.
But his top priority is ensuring Midnight Aria emerge from the Plate unscathed. Gonzalez implied the horse would compete at Fort Erie.
"Could there be anything better than today? Probably not," Gonzalez said. "But going back to Fort Erie, where I have deep roots . . . would it be special to go on to the Prince of Wales and do well? Yes, it really would.
"We just take races one race at a time and training horses one day at a time. We have to make sure when we go back to the barn he's in good order. We'll see what three weeks plus another couple of days on that Tuesday is going to bring us."
The all-sources handle on the Queen's Plate card was a record $9,739,879, shattering the previous mark of $8,768,101 set in 2011.