July 21, 2024

Holy Helena gives Canadian classic to international connections

Holy Helena was much the best over males in the 158th Queen's Plate (Photo courtesy Holly Smith)

A filly bred in Ontario gave her Austrian owner, American trainer, and Mexican jockey a Canadian classic, as Frank Stronach’s homebred Holy Helena was much the best in the Queen’s Plate on July 2 at Woodbine.

However, a Canadian Triple Crown does not appear in the cards for the filly, as trainer Jimmy Jerkens says he hopes to target U.S.-based summer races such as the Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course rather than the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.

Jerkens said he was confident coming into the Queen’s Plate that Holy Helena would handle the added distance as well as males. She is the third filly to defeat males to win the Queen’s Plate in 7 years.

“The way she won the [Woodbine] Oaks there was no question she was up to the challenge as well as anyone in the race,” said Jerkens, who watched the race from Belmont Park. “Her work the other day was just right, so I was confident. We were asking a lot of her, but she’s kept her composure the whole way, and that says a lot about her class. I’d love to run her in a race like the Alabama.”

Holy Helena raced a few lengths off the pace set by State of Honor through opening fractions of :24.17 and :48.67 before jockey Luis Contreras began looking for room heading into the far turn. State of Honor yielded the lead to Megagray through three quarters in 1:13.23 and a mile in 1:37.64 before Holy Helena made her move inside the quarter pole, opening up 3 ½ lengths in the stretch to cruise to victory in 2:02.87.

“This filly gave me everything,” Contreras said of his second Queen’s Plate winner. “I was so confident; I had so much filly today. I got a dream trip, really. She broke nice, she settled between horses, and when I looked around turning for home I knew no one could run with me, and we went. She galloped out strong, too.”

Contreras’ previous Queen’s Plate winner was Inglorious, who in 2011 finished last in the Alabama rather than go for the Canadian Triple Crown.

Tiz a Slam closed to be second, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of the other filly in the race, Inflexibility—who had been favored over Holy Helena in the Woodbine Oaks. In fact, at 2.15-to-1 in the Queen’s Plate, this marked the first time Holy Helena had been favored in her four-race career.

Holy Helena did not start until April of her three-year-old season, finishing 2nd at Aqueduct before breaking her maiden at Belmont then shipping to Woodbine for the Oaks on the synthetic Tapeta surface.

Jerkens and Stronach began their relationship in the early 21st century when Adena sent Jerkens horses after went on his own, and they found early success with graded stakes winner Wrangler. However, Stronach curtailed his U.S. operations a few years later and based most of his racing stock in Canada. That changed a few years ago, and they rekindled their relationship with horses like Shaman Ghost, who Jerkens said Stronach will travel to New York to watch in the Suburban (G2) next week.

Frank Stronach celebrates his fourth Queen’s Plate winner (Photo courtesy Holly Smith)

Holy Helena is a third generation homebred in the colors of the Stronach family’s multinational Adena Springs operation. She is by Stronach’s Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and out of the Holy Bull mare Holy Grace, herself out of the Stronach homebred My Marchesa, by Stately Don. Holy Helena’s pedigree includes Queen’s Plate winners Awesome Again and Northern Dancer and Canadian Horse of the Year Deputy Minister.

“We always thought she was special, now we think she’s even more special,” Stronach said.

Holy Helena has won 4 of 5 starts and has earned more than $750,000. She returns to Jerkens’ barn at Belmont Park on Wednesday, July 5.