Written by: Jennifer Morrison

Holy Helena’s dominant victory in the 158th Queen’s Plate is a product of three generations of Frank Stronach’s breeding program.

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Holy Helena is the third filly to win the Plate in the last seven years and the sixth to win both the Plate and the Woodbine Oaks.
Frank Stronach might have one of the largest racing and breeding businesses in North American racing, but when it comes to planning a mating, training and racing one of its runners, attention to detail is paramount.

Holy Helena, the winner of the 158th Queen’s Plate at Woodbine on July 2, is the latest classic winner from the Stronach family fold, carefully prepped and pampered since she was foaled on May 4, 2014 at Adena Springs North in Aurora, ON.

The unflappable dark bay three-year-old with three generations of Stronach breeding in her bloodlines skipped away from Chiefswood Stable’s big colt Tiz a Slam to win the bulk of the $1 million purse after touring 1 ¼ miles of Tapeta in 2:02.87, the 11th fastest time since the race was moved out to 10 furlongs in 1957.

The daughter of Ghostzapper–Holy Grace by the late Holy Bull is the third filly to win the Plate in the last seven years, the sixth Woodbine Oaks-Plate winner since ‘56 and the 36th filly to take the country’s most famous race in its history.

Stronach’s racing manager Mike Doyle played an integral role in paving the way for the filly’s 2017 trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, based in New York, to prepare the filly for a Woodbine assault.

“I think she could be very, very good,” said Doyle. “What she did out there (in the Plate), with that much ease, was incredible.”

Even the normally reserved Luis Contreras, who got his first ride on Holy Helena in the Oaks, the filly’s third career start, had trouble containing himself as he described how easily the filly won.

“I was so confident,” said the Mexican-born Contreras. “I was looking inside and outside and had a lot of time before I even asked her to go. She was much, much better in this race than the Oaks. And I had plenty of horse left in the end.”

This was Stronach’s fourth Plate victory and second with an offspring of Ghostzapper. Shaman Ghost won the 2015 Plate for trainer Brian Lynch and that colt is now in Jerkens’ barn as a Grade 1 winner.

The Plate win was the third victory in just four career starts for Holy Helena, who had her first racetrack experiences, and workouts, last fall with trainer Kevin Attard. The filly was then sent to Jerkens at Palm Meadows, Stronach’s public training centre in Boyton, Beach, FL, as Attard was not able to go to Florida right away.

From January to April, the filly did not miss a beat in her training and she debuted at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York on April 15 with a second-place finish in a dirt sprint. She promptly won her maiden second time out May 12 at Belmont Park in a 1 1/16 mile race in eye-catching fashion.

“Jimmy Jerkens doesn’t make too many comments, he’s reserved,” said Stronach. “But when she won the second start, he said, ‘Gee, that’s a really nice filly,’ and I talked to Mike and he told me the payments had already been made to make her Plate-eligible.”

Holy Helena arrived at Doyle’s barn (he also trains his own stable of runners for various clients) just less than a week before the Woodbine Oaks on June 11.

“She arrived at Woodbine in fantastic shape and maintained it the whole way through,” said Doyle. “Jimmy and I, the whole team here, we were in touch every day. She’s just exceptionally laid back and seems quite intelligent.”

Following her one-length Oaks victory, Holy Helena bounced back well enough to earn her a chance in the Plate three weeks later. The filly, however, won’t be continuing through the Canadian Triple Crown series in the Prince of Wales on July 25 at Fort Erie.

“You can’t go to the well too often, she will get a little break now,” said Stronach.

The Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 19 was thought to be the next target for Holy Helena.

Holy TEAMWORK, Batman!

The list of people who have cared and helped train Holy Helena throughout her time at the racetrack is long. Following her initial few months with Woodbine trainer Kevin Attard and his staff in the fall of 2016, Holy Helena was shipped to the Ocala, FL division of Adena Springs before she joined Jerkens at Palm Meadows.

Shirley Jerkens, wife of Jimmy, told Canadian Thoroughbred:

“She has had a couple grooms and various riders since her time with us so I think it would be unfair to mention one over the other. Terry DeMarco was her first groom with us upon her arrival from Adena Ocala from December, 2016 to April 1, 2017 and then she shipped up to Belmont and was taken over by Victor Macias. Terry DeMarco did not make the trip to New York. As far as exercise riders, Brittany Trimble got on her mostly in Palm Meadows, especially her gate work and then predominantly it has been Kelvin Pahal once she arrived in New York.”

At Woodbine, Holy Helena was groomed by longtime Woodbine worker Denzel Fonseca and galloped by Calvin Giles.

Other Plate Day stakes

In other stakes races on Queen’s Plate day, American invader Green Mask just about set a course record in the Highlander Stakes (Grade 2) at 6 furlongs on the turf, running perhaps the best race of his career.

The four-year-old gelding by Mizzen Mast, owned by Abdullah Saeed Almaddah and trained by Brad Cox, flew home to win by two lengths in 1:07.59, just missing the course record of 1:07.17. His Beyer Speed Figure of 110 was the highest of his 26-race career. Green Mask, who was second beaten a neck in last year’s Highlander, was ridden by Javier Castellano. The gelding has won seven races and earned over $950,000.

Gus Schickedanz of Schomberg, ON watched as his Go Bro posted a 44-1 upset in the King Edward Stakes (Grade 2) at one mile on the grass, winning by a head over the Wesley Ward-trained Hootenanny. Go Bro, recently gelded, was making his third start of the season and winning his first stakes race. He is a six-year-old by Proud Citizen bred by the owner and trained by Mike Keogh.

The Dance Smartly Stakes (Grade 2) was a thriller as Lael Stables Rainha Da Bateria, trained by Chad Brown, dead-heated with Starship Jubilee, recently claimed by Kevin Attard for $16,000.

Rainha da Bateria, winner of Woodbine’s Canadian Stakes (G2) last fall was making her second start of the season while Starship Jubilee was coming off an upset win in the Nassau Stakes (Grade 2) in her Woodbine debut for owner Soli Mehta and partner.

Sam-Son Farm’s eight-year-old warrior Aldous Snow, a son of Theatrical (IRE) won the Singspiel Stakes for the third straight year.

Woodbine Entertainment Group realized another record-breaking Queen’s Plate afternoon, part of a two-day Canada Day Festival, as over $13.5 million was wagered on the 13-race card, crushing the record of $11.8 million that was set a year ago.

This was Stronach’s fourth Plate victory and second with an offspring of Ghostzapper. Shaman Ghost won the 2015 Plate for trainer Brian Lynch and that colt is now in Jerkens’ barn as a Grade 1 winner.