Queen's Plate on America's radar

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:00 PM ET

The slow yet steady demise of American thoroughbred racing has put to the test the patience of even the most hard-core horse player.

Small fields in major stakes races. Cheap horses racing at even the biggest tracks. And a takeout that borders on criminal when compared to most other forms of gambling.

So what's the answer beyond the bland racing cards regularly available in once proud racing jurisdictions such as California and New York? More and more, it seems, U.S. bettors are starting to view Woodbine racing as a potential alternative to all that's wrong in their own country (with the exception of the takeout, which is larcenous here as well.)

The word on Woodbine has been out for a while now, but this past Sunday's Queen's Plate might well be seen as a huge moment in the business of Canadian racing.

Helped by a huge influx of American dollars and a highly competitive 17-horse field, the Plate set a wagering record when more than $8.8 million was bet on the entire Woodbine card. The previous record of $6.8 million was set last year when Queen Elizabeth was at Woodbine for the race held in her honour.

Almost half of the increase came from the U.S. where the race was available via simulcast and heavily hyped on U.S-based horse racing network, TVG.

"We were up 5% in our home market as well -- and that's important to us," Woodbine Entertainment Group and CEO, Nick Eaves said this week. "But the growth in the U.S. has been phenomenal. The high-profile connections such as (trainer) Todd Pletcher and jockeys John Velazquez and Garrett Gomez. They pay attention when the stars of U.S. racing are competing but they are hearing a lot more about Woodbine."

There's nothing bettors like more than big fields -- regardless of the quality -- and such offerings are few and far between in the U.S. lately. So the more those bettors familiarize themselves with racing here, the expectation would be that the interest in the product will continue to increase.

As for the Plate, Woodbine officials are hopeful that the historic race may suddenly be on its way to being in vogue once again.

"We've worked hard and we are lucky to have that momentum but the next step is to take advantage of the groundswell," Eaves said. "One of the things we were most impressed with (on Plate Day) was that the demographic showed a younger crowd with so many dressed up in dresses and shirts and ties.

"It's looking like the Queen's Plate is clearly on the radar of a lot of people."

In Harness

Owner/trainer Carl Jamieson probably hadn't finished counting the $750,000 he won with three-year-old pacer Up The Credit in last month's North America Cup before he unveiled his newest star.

Jamieson's two-year-old colt Warrawee Needy has the sport buzzing after a brilliant Monday night at Mohawk Racetrack where he cruised to a win in an Ontario Sires Stakes event, pacing his mile in 1:51 4/5. As impressive as that time was, the final quarter of 25 3/5 was remarkable.

With just two races in his career, Warrawee Needy has reportedly already prompted seven-figure offers to Jamieson, who trains the colt and owns him in partnership with three others. The response so far: The horse is not for sale.

More Plate

Bettors south of the border don't seem to view it this way, but one prominent U.S. blogger is less than enamoured with the Queen's Plate, offering this assessment: "The Queen's Plate Stakes is the Albany Stakes of Canada with the added bonus of being called a "classic" and 10 times the purse, but at the end of the day, it's a race restricted to three-year-olds bred in Canada just as the Albany is for three-year-olds bred in New York." We're guessing the Albany hasn't attracted many 17-horse fields over the years, however ... The idea was ridiculed by some pundits, but that was some sharp work by Adam Hickman, the man who established the Queen's Plate Winterbook in conjunction with the Woodbine publicity department. Inglorious, who has never lost on the Woodbine surface, was made the favourite back in March and never disappointed ... It will be interesting to see where trainer Josie Carroll heads next with Inglorious. The Prince of Wales in Fort Erie isn't a sure thing. For good reason, the champ's connections will be eyeing big graded stakes races at Saratoga.

Finish Lines

Kentucky Derby champion, Animal Kingdom, is on the shelf and there is speculation he may never race again. The colt, who also finished second in the Preakness, had surgery on Thursday to repair a fracture in his left hind leg ... With the recent addition of a two-year-old sprint event, the Breeder's Cup is now officially out of control. What was once a great single day of racing when it began in 1984 is a watered-down 15-race affair that takes two full race days to complete ... Trotter Crys Dream, who scored an impressive victory in the Elegantimage Stakes on the North America Cup undercard, has been issued a 90-day suspension by the Ontario Racing Commission for a positive test for a Class 2 drug.

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