It’s Wonder Ga-DOT, people. Not Wonder Ga-DOUGH, as so trippingly falls off the tongues of those Canadian folk who think in bilingual terms.
Now you’ll all have to remember the name of Wonder Gadot, because the imposing 3-year-old filly just became the 37th filly to win the Queen’s Plate against the boys over the past 159 years, (and the ninth since Woodbine opened in 1956.) It’s quite a feat that half of the last eight runnings of the Plate have gone to fillies as great-hearted as can be.
Only 40 fillies have run in the Kentucky Derby, only three have won it, the last being Winning Colors in 1988, and none have run in it since 2010.
For the first 35 years of the Queen’s (King’s) Plate, half of the winners were female. They regularly found their way to the winner’s circle. Some of the female giants of the Canadian turf came after that, names like Belle Mahone, Canadiana and Queensway which won all of the three races that make up the Canadian Triple Crown back in 1932.
Wonder Gadot make a mockery of the Queen’s Plate romp for the purple flowers by 4 ¾ lengths, that because once she took the lead, jockey John Velasquez just made a push against her, and she accelerated even more at the eighth pole. What animal could overcome that onslaught of athleticism? It was an exhibition of pure power.
Even though Wonder Gadot lost the Woodbine Oaks against her own sex (she was pinched back at the start), bettors made her the 2 to 1 favourite over her stablemate Telekinesis, winner of the Plate Trial for the Big Show. Smart cookies, all.
Not so smart about picking second and third finishers however, both local triumphs, big wins for the little guys. Aheadbyacentury, owned by a racing stable in the business for only three years, bounded past all of his peers from the back of the field to finish second at odds of 28 to 1. Perhaps Gord Downie was looking down on them all.
And Cooler Mike definitely flew under the Plate radar, and as the minutes dragged on, his odds just went up and up, finally to 46 to 1 by post time. Carrying the colours of the Nosowenko barn, which had only ever started one other horse in the Plate, Cooler Mike finished third. The horse had raced only twice this season in allowance races, with trainer Nick Nosowenko reasoning that three starts might just be too much. He watched all the competition, and knew that he hadn’t cranked up big old Cooler Mike all the way. And there was more to come. And he was right.
Back at the barn later, Cooler Mike bounced around his stall like a kid who had just found the best Christmas present, ever – and he knew it – and deigned to munch on a few mints proffered by Nina Nosowenko. And down the shedrow, where Cooler Mike could see it, was the red cooler from which he had taken his name, the one that Nina’s husband, Mike, now 79, had that had reserved for post-race celebrations/cheering-up rituals. Although the cooler is more than 50 years old, it looks as if they picked it up new from a Walmart store last week.
Were the locals screaming as the field charged to the finish wire? Is the Woodbine turf course green?
Jockey Jesse Campbell, formerly a Woodbine regular who went home to Chicago for this season, came back to ride Cooler Mike. “I’m out of breath,” Campbell said. “I’ve never been so happy to run third in my life. He ran huge. Well prepared and Nick did a great job of getting him ready for today. He ran the race of his life.”
Back to Wonder Woman, er Wonder Gadot. After trainer Mark Casse purchased her for $325,000, he told new owner Gary Barber that the filly by Medaglio d’Oro was quite special and he had better find a special name for her.
“A friend of mine who runs Warner Brothers came out with the [Wonder Woman] movie,” Barber said. “So I said: ‘Okay, she’s a wonderful horse, I’ll put it together with [the actress who player Wonder Woman: Gal Gadot].’”
Barber has never met Gadot, an Israeli-born Renaissance woman: actress, model, Miss Israel and lawyer – and she had spent two years in the Israel Defence Forces combat unit. She’s statuesque, at 5-foot-10.
On Saturday, Wonder Gadot lived up to her namesake. She hadn’t always. She’s often been on the verge of greatness, but has tended to hang in the stretch. The stable’s biggest disappointment came when she finished second in the Kentucky Oaks by half a length to brilliant filly Monomoy Girl.
“I wanted her to win for Canada,” Casse said of his Canadian-bred filly. “But she has just been so unlucky.”
But no doubt about it, Wonder Gadot is as tough as nails. “She reminds me a lot of Lexie Lou [2014 Queen’s Plate winner he trained for Barber and yes, a filly] even though she probably weighs 200 pounds more than Lexie did.
“Lexie just thrived on running. There are horses that will just run and run and run. Luckily this is one of them.”
And the wretched conditions under which the Queen’s Plate was run? Say 35 degrees C, with a humidex of 47, one of the hottest days in recent years. Barber asked Casse before the race if he thought the heat would affect Wonder Gadot.
Casse assured him it would not. “She is a cool customer,” Casse said. He added that the heat would affect others, not her.
The pace was a little quicker than Casse would have liked and he was surprised to find that his colt, Telekinesis, favoured in the morning line, went to the front. And Wonder Gadot wasn’t far behind in fifth. “I thought they’d lay off the pace if it was fast,” he said. (Telekinesis ended up fifth.)
Lest anyone think Telekinesis, owned by Stonestreet Stable of Kentucky, set the race up for Wonder Gadot, think again. “She was right there,” Casse said. “She was running pretty well as fast as anybody else was.”
Casse decided to make one change for the Plate, have Wonder Gadot run in blinkers, with hopes that she wouldn’t’ hang in the stretch, and would run on, rather than be influenced by the presence of neighbours. It was a big risk to do something like that for a $1-million race. “You know, if it ain’t broke, you don’t want to fix it,” he said. “She’s run a lot of good races. It’s tough to make that kind of call. But finally we just said: ‘Look we’ve got to do it.’”
You just might have to think that the blinkers did make a difference, Casse said. “Maybe I just wasn’t smart enough to figure that out. I have been a slow learner on occasion.”
Velasquez saw an awesome effort for a filly that had lost her first six starts this season. “Finally, we got her to pay attention and pass horses,” he said afterwards. “It was great.”
One thing Casse knows for sure: she loves running distances. Loves it. If she stays healthy and happy, she’ll be tough down the road. “She’ll give anybody in North America a run for their money in the Alabama.” And he means Monomoy Girl.
Barber says Wonder Gadot has even better things down the road. First, they’ll see how she comes out of this race. He would really love her to run in the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 18. Then there’s the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown – the Prince of Wales Stakes- at Fort Erie racetrack on July 24. “Whatever Mark says, that’s what will happen,” Barber said.
Casse said he’ll discuss it with Barber, but he feels the Prince of Wales would set her up perfectly for the Alabama.
And what about Flameaway, which had been one of the favourites for the Queen’s Plate over the winter? Earlier this season Flameaway had been tangling with some of the top 3-year-olds, winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes over Catholic Boy and Vino Rosso, and then finishing second to top colt Good Magic in the Blue Grass Stakes, an important prep for the Kentucky Derby. Flameaway finished 13th in the Derby, itself, then Casse took him off the Queen’s Plate trail and sent him to the Ohio Derby.
Would he be a candidate for the Prince of Wales? “Would Flameaway not like to see Wonder Gadot [in the Prince of Wales]?” Casse said. “Yeah he’d probably rather not she be there.”
But still, Casse runs a huge stable. He runs multiple horses in the same races for many people. In the Charlie Barley Stakes, earlier on the Queen’s Plate day card, Casse trained four of the seven horses in the race. He tells all of his riders to do their own thing in a race. “Nobody is helping the other one,” he said.
“You have to let every horse be what they are and run in the best place.” Yes, he thinks Flameaway and Wonder Gadot may very well meet some day. Flameaway may not like it.