A change in ownership didn’t foreshadow a change in fortune for South African superstar Legal Eagle, who captured the Queen’s Plate (G1) for the third straight year at Kenilworth on Saturday. Still unbeatable over a metric mile, with his eighth career victory at the distance, the two-time Horse of the Year has earned a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs – if connections want to make the quarantine-complicated trek.
Legal Eagle was recently sold by Mayfair Speculators’ embattled Markus Jooste to the partnership of Braam van Huyssteen, William Henderson, and Hedley McGrath. Thankfully the off-course drama wasn’t mirrored in his build-up to the Queen’s Plate. Trainer Sean Tarry reported that Legal Eagle was in superb form since his repeat win in the course-and-distance prep, the Green Point (G2), on December 2.
But there was more drama in the race itself than in his past two Queen’s Plates, for the odds-on favorite cut it very close. Reserved just off the pace while saving ground on the rail, Legal Eagle watched familiar foe Captain America produce a bold front-running effort. The leader extended his advantage in upper stretch and briefly threatened a coup. Then regular rider Anton Marcus gave Legal Eagle his cue, and he began to reel in Captain America, while longshot Copper Force mounted a furious rally from last to join them at the line.
Legal Eagle was safely in front, however. Officially a half-length clear of Copper Force, the Greys Inn gelding clocked 1:38.14 on the good course. Captain America was a near-miss third, holding on from Sail South and Marinesco in a blanket finish.
Legal Eagle has compiled a sterling record of 21-12-5-2. Seven of those wins have come at the top level, with the 2015 S.A. Derby (G1), 2016 Premier’s Champions Challenge (G1), and past two runnings of the Horse Chestnut (G1) added to his Queen’s Plate trio. Legal Eagle was narrowly denied as the defending champion in last May’s Premier’s Champions Challenge, and he’s also placed in the last two editions of the J&B/now Sun Met (G1).
Bred by Avontuur Thoroughbred Farm in South Africa, Legal Eagle is out of the Group 2-placed National Emblem mare Young Sensation. His second dam is Group 1 winner Fair Model.
Legal Eagle hails from the further family of legendary South African export *Hawaii, the U.S. champion grass horse of 1969.