On Wednesday June 16, Woodbine Entertainment Group announced that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, will be the Guests of Honour at the 151st running of the Queen's Plate Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on Sunday July 4. Her Majesty will present the Queen's Plate trophy and the 50-guinea gift from the Royal Privy Purse to the winning owner for the first time since 1997, when Awesome Again and jockey Mike Smith won for owner Frank Stronach. Prior to that year, her previous visits to Woodbine were in 1959 and 1973. The 50 guineas were first awarded by Queen Victoria to the owners of Don Juan in 1860, the first running, and the tradition continues to this day. Since guineas are no longer minted, 50 gold sovereigns are used instead.
The Queen (or, in her absence, her representative, usually the Governor-General of Canada or the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario) arrives in a horse-drawn landau, similar to what she uses when arriving at Royal Ascot. In fact Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, will be riding the same landau used by her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother) when they came to the Plate in 1939, the first time the reigning monarch attended the race. The Queen Mother made the most visits of any Royal, also attending in 1962, 1965, 1974, 1981, 1985, and 1989.
The Queen's Plate kicks off the Canadian Triple Crown series, run at the same distances as their American counterpart, but over three different surfaces, and are restricted to 3-year-olds foaled in Canada. In each race, colts and geldings carry 126 pounds while fillies carry 121. The $1 million Queen's Plate is Canada's Derby, run at 1 1/4 miles over the Polytrack at Woodbine on July 4 this year. The series moves south to Fort Erie Racetrack on July 25 for the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, run at 1 3/16 miles over a conventional dirt track, and then returns to Woodbine on August 15 for the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, contested at 1 1/2 miles over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course. A horse that completes the sweep earns a $500,000 bonus, a feat that has not been completed since Wando in 2003. Past Triple Crown winners With Approval (1989) and Dance Smartly (1991) went on to graded stakes success south of the border, while Wando stands at stud alongside his sire Langfuhr at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky.
For fans who have contemplated visiting the historic oval for the first time, or those who haven't been back since the 1996 Breeders' Cup World Championships, this is as good a time as any to make the trip to Toronto to witness the pageantry of the 151st renewal of North America's oldest continuously-run stakes race. Even on Queen's Plate Day, general admission and parking are free. There will be plenty of free seating available on the fourth and fifth levels, out on the apron, and in the backyard, or you can order reserved seating for Plate day via an order form available at queensplate.com for $15-$30 Canadian.