Saturday features the 159th running of the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Toronto, and 16 colts, fillies and geldings have been entered in the contest.
The race is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, and there are more than a few similarities, and differences, between it and the first jewel of the United States’ Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby.
One of the first similarities between the Derby and Queen’s Plate is distance. Both races take place at 1 1/4 miles.
However, the Kentucky Derby is run over the dirt track at Churchill Downs while the Queen’s Plate has been conducted on Woodbine’s all-weather surface since the venue switched to Polytrack in August 2006. In 2016, Woodbine removed the Polytrack and installed another synthetic track, Tapeta, which currently serves as its main track.
The Queen’s Plate and the Kentucky Derby are two of the longest running races in North America.
The Queen’s Plate was inaugurated on June 27, 1860, while the first Kentucky Derby took place May 17, 1875. The Kentucky Derby just ran the 144th edition and on Saturday the Queen’s Plate will be conducted for the 159th time.
The Phoenix Stakes (1831) at Keeneland is the oldest race in North America, followed by the Queen’s Plate, the Travers Stakes (1864) at Saratoga and the Belmont Stakes, which was first held at Jerome Park in New York in 1867.
However, thanks to gaps in runnings of the other races, the Queen’s Plate holds the distinction of being the longest continuously run race on the continent.
While most big races have nicknames, the monikers given to Kentucky Derby and Queen’s Plate stand out.
The Derby is known as the “Run for the Roses” due to the garland of striking red roses draped over the winner.
The Queen’s Plate is dubbed the “Gallop for the Guineas” because Queen Victoria offered a prize of “a plate to the value of Fifty Guineas” when it was first run.
It should be noted that the Queen’s Plate name is changed to the King’s Plate when the English monarch is male.
Queens and Kings
Both the Kentucky Derby and Queen’s Plate have been visited by royalty, though the latter much more so.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth witnessed the 1939 edition of what was then known as the King’s Plate.
Twenty years later, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, attended the 1959 edition of the Queen’s Plate. The pair returned for the 1973, 1997 and 2010 runnings as well.
Queen Mother Elizabeth returned for a second viewing of the Queen’s Plate in 1962. She continued attending the race, showing up in 1965, 1974, 1979, 1981, 1985 and 1989.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip have thus far made one visit to the Kentucky Derby. That came in 2007 when Street Sense won.
In 1964, Northern Dancer became the first Canadian-bred horse to capture the Kentucky Derby, doing so in a then record time of 2:00 on May 2. He followed up by winning the Preakness Stakes and finishing third in the Belmont Stakes.
On June 20, Northern Dancer returned home to Woodbine with jockey Bill Hartack aboard to romp by 7 1/2 lengths in the Queen’s Plate.
One major difference between the Kentucky Derby and the Queen’s Plate is the number of winning fillies.
While 40 fillies have competed in the Kentucky Derby, only three graced the winner’s circle wearing the rose blanket – Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors (1988).
The Queen’s Plate regularly sees fillies taking their chances against the boys, and 36 of those lasses prevailed.
In fact, this year’s field includes two strong female contenders – Dixie Moon and Wonder Gadot – who will attempt to see a filly score for the second straight year following Holy Helena’s 3 1/2-length romp in the 2017 Queen’s Plate.