Seeing as his Ottawa Senators continue to master the playoff flop, Eugene Melnyk has his sights set on a secondary prize.
The Senators owner puts the Queen's Plate right up there with the Stanley Cup on his list of desired sporting trophies. Today at Woodbine, Melnyk will have two chances to add Plate No. 2 to his jam-packed horse racing resume.
The Toronto native has two horses entered in the 13-horse Plate -- Sterwins at 6-1 and Bridgecut at 50-1.
"Other than overtime in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, I can't imagine a more exciting two minutes in sport (than the Queen's Plate)," Melnyk said in a telephone interview from his home in Barbados yesterday.
Melnyk, who also bowed out early in the junior hockey playoffs this year with his St. Michael's Majors, will fly to Toronto today to attend the $1-million race (TSN, 6:07 p.m.) .
"The Queen's Plate is the most prestigious and important race in Canada," he said. "Winning this for a Canadian is equal to an American winning the Kentucky Derby. You have the same anticipation and excitement as you would have at Churchill Downs (before the Derby).
"The Queen's Plate is Canadiana."
Melnyk earned his first major stakes victory in the 1998 Plate with Archers Bay. That victory spurred him to pour millions into racing.
"(After that win), we went from a four-horse operation to 500," Melnyk said.
While his hockey teams haven't brought him glory recently, Melnyk has had success at the track. He finished second at the Eclipse Awards, North America's top honours for racing, in the owner category last year after Flower Alley was runner-up in the Breeders' Cup classic.
It was at the Eclipse Awards where Melnyk met young Canadian jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, winner of the Eclipse as top apprentice, and offered her a chance to ride some of his horses.
Today, Wilson has her first Plate ride aboard Bridgecut.
"After she won the jockey title, I told her I want her riding for me," Melnyk said. "She is continuing to become one of the best jockeys (in Canada)."
As for Sterwins, he has raced only twice, but crushed the runner-up by 101/2 lengths in his most recent start. Melnyk's top Plate contender, Manor Lodge, broke a leg in the spring, but he feels his current duo can contend.
"As Muhammad Ali said ... I'm hoping we can shock the world," Melnyk said.
Bob Baffert-trained Wanna Runner is the heavy favourite.
Meanwhile, royalty will not be represented at the Plate today for the first time in the 147-year history of the race because of the mutuel clerk strike.
Lt.-Gov. James Bartleman will not cross the picket line after Woodbine's request to have him be cleared to enter was denied by the union. Patrons can expect delays entering Woodbine.