Strait to Dover captures Queen's Plate

Justin Stein signals No. 1 as he guides Strait to Dover over the finish line to win the 153rd...

Justin Stein signals No. 1 as he guides Strait to Dover over the finish line to win the 153rd Queen's Plate at Woodbine on Sunday. (Michael Burns, photo)

RICHARD MAUNTAH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:16 PM ET

TORONTO - Strait of Dover ... Straight to the lead ... Straight to the winner’s circle.

On a track that seemed to be playing front-runners all day, jockey Justin Stein did exactly what he needed to do and, for his efforts, he is now a Queen’s Plate champion.

Stein was jubilant in leading his horse to the winner’s circle, fist-pumping and pointing at his winning mount, soaking up every moment of his first Plate win while braving the rain that started just before post time and picked up as the horses crossed the wire.

Breaking from post position No. 4 in the 14-horse field, Strait of Dover hit the front from the first stride of the gate. He did have Colleen’s Sailor tracking him early through a reasonable first half mile in 473/5. In the backstretch, he opened up to about three lengths.

He was briefly challenged around the turn by Colleen’s Sailor, who would fade to fourth, but quickly sprinted away.

Woodbine Oaks winner Irish Mission would pick up a few positions late to grab second, never challenging the Strait of Dover, who won by 11/2 lengths in 2:01.99, bettering the Woodbine polytrack record by a few 100ths of a second. Dixie Strike, who was at one time was the winterbook favourite for the Plate, came from last at one point in the race to finish third.

“He left the gate relaxed,” Stein said of the winner. “The first eighth of a mile, I was waiting to see how the race would unfold and everybody was non-committal.”

“My horse was running easy. I was okay going to the lead; (trainer Danny Vella) told me I was more than welcome to go to the lead. We took command of the race. We were going easy and I was surprised they let us go.”

“In the backstretch, I opened up a notch to try to get the others tired trying to chase me,” he said. “Around the turn, I had to move him a little earlier than I wanted to. It was up to him from there.”

“He’s a true champion. He wanted to win the race.”

It was the first Queen’s Plate winner born in British Columbia. Owned by Wally and Terry Leong, who have been breeders in Kelowna for 30 years, Strait of Dover came to Woodbine last fall after two failed starts at Hastings Park.

After being impressed with his first local workout, Vella entered him in a maiden race, which he finished first in, but was disqualified for interference. He eventually broke his maiden before his winter vacation one race later.

In April, he returned in an entry-level allowance race. But it wasn’t until the Marine Stakes and a flashy 61/2-length win that he was considered a top contender for the Plate.

It was the first Plate win for Stein, a native of New Westminster, B.C., who started his career winning an apprentice riding title at the track. He is enjoying a good Woodbine season, currently sitting fifth in the jockey standings.

The sudden success of Hastings Park graduates, including Kentucky Derby and Preakness winning rider Mario Gutierrez wasn’t lost on Stein.

“It’s a tremendous year for Vancouver. The stars have aligned.”

It was the second Plate win for Vella, who also won with Basqueian in 1994. Strait of Dover was sent off as the 7-2 second-choice in the race.

Ultimate Destiny finished fifth, followed by slight favourite River Rush. Making Amends, Classic Bryce, Washington Dash, Golden Ridge, Wilcox, Macho Whiskey, Peyton, and Big Creek rounded out the field.


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