Queen's Plate winner Moira faces challenge in Breeders' Cup race

She earned trainer Kevin Attard his first Queen's Plate title earlier this year, but Moira will have plenty of ground to cover to secure her conditioner a Breeders' Cup trophy.

The champion filly will break from the No. 12 post in the US$2-million Filly and Mare Turf event set at 1 3/16 miles Saturday at Keeneland. She'll be one of two Canadian entries in the 12-horse field, with Lady Speightspeare -- owned by Charles Fipke and trained by veteran Woodbine conditioner Roger Attfield -- starting from the No. 1 post.

"You can't over-think these things, it's obviously the luck of the draw," Attard said during a telephone interview. "They start right at the bend coming out of the turn so there should be some time to position her.

"Obviously we have a very capable jockey."

Veteran Frankie Dettori, a multiple Breeders' Cup winner, will ride Moira, an early 10-1 pick while Lady Speightspeare is at 20-1 odds. And it's truly a global field with seven horses from Canada (two), Ireland (three) and the United Kingdom (two).

It's been a solid '21 season for Moira, who served notice July 24 she was a definite Plate contender. She captured the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks with jockey Rafael Hernandez by a whopping 10 3/4-lengths despite running without hind shoes following a pre-race incident in the paddock.

Roughly two months later, Hernandez had Moira sitting eighth at the half-mile point of the 1 1/4-mile Plate and seventh after three-quarters of a mile. He moved her into third behind Ironstone and The Minkster before Moira thundered down the stretch, earning a seven-length victory in a synthetic track and Plate record time of 2:01.48.

With that, Moira became the eighth filly to notch the Oaks-Plate double. But she didn't race again until the $750,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes on Oct. 8 at Woodbine, initially finishing second behind Rougir before being disqualified for interference and dropped to eighth.

Still, Attard said his horse was tenacious in the 1 1/4-mile race, her first on grass.

"She had a tough trip but still showed plenty of heart and determination," Attard said. "He (jockey Hernandez) was looking for room and mistakenly ducked to the inside and cut a horse off.

"Even after that, I didn't think there was a whole lot of room for her to come up on the inside but she was trying to get through. When the space opened up, she did get her head up in front for a bit before Rougir came up on the outside of them all and won the race."

That ended Moira's three-race win streak this season and marked the first time in six career starts she hadn't finished in the money (4-1-0).

Attard isn't concerned about Moira recovering fully from her 12-hour trip to Keeneland or running on a new track.

"She's always travelled back and forth from Kentucky to Woodbine and has handled that beautifully," Attard said. "To be frank, this is a smaller turf course as opposed to Woodbine so we have a natural two-turn race whereas the E.P. Taylor started on the bend.

"When you look at the Oaks and Queen's Plate, those were two-turn races and she seemed to thrive in those. I'm kind of glad to see this race kind of mould to that format in a sense."

Predictably, Attard's ultimate goal for Moira is to secure the victory Saturday. And given the Ontario-bred's success in Canada, there's certainly a weight of expectation on the horse.

But the harsh reality is once again she's definitely stepping up in competition and the No. 12 post will present definite challenges that, while not impossible, remain formidable.

"A lot of people have kind of dubbed her the Queen of Canada and for her to run really well here would kind of solidify that title," Attard said. "For us, the Breeders' Cup obviously is such a race to be in that if you were ever so lucky to win it, that would be so special.

"Obviously we've worked very hard to get here and she's in good order. I'm just going to hope for the best now."

Attard will have a second horse in the Breeders' Cup as Last Call will run in the mile-long Juvenile Fillies Turf event Friday night. She'll break from the No. 3 post, just outside of compatriot Cairo Consort.

Last Call qualified for the Breeders' Cup event by winning the Grade 1 $500,000 Natalma Stakes on Sept. 17 at Woodbine. Last Call earned her first career victory in the mile-long turf face for two-year-old fillies as a 21-1 longshot.

Cairo Consort finished second. Dettori will ride the Kentucky-bred Last Call at Keeneland. She has a win and second-place finish in three starts this season.

Last Call is listed as a 20-1 early pick while Cairo Consort is at 12-1 odds.

"She's a filly that's continued to improve," Attard said. "Right now I think she's definitely an underdog and I don't anticipate her getting too much betting attention and that's fine.

"Obviously these are tough races with good horses coming from everywhere. I' m very happy with everything she's done to this point . . . and just excited to see her hopefully perform very well."

Attfield will also have a second horse running in Kentucky as Shirl's Speight, at 30-1 early odds, will break from the No. 2 post in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Saturday. The Kentucky-bred horse was fourth in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Sept. 17 but won the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland on April 15.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press