A wire-to-wire victory in hot, humid conditions on a soggy racetrack has earned Queen's Plate champion Midnight Aria a well-deserved break.
Veteran trainer Nick Gonzalez disclosed Tuesday that Midnight Aria has been slow to recover from his stunning win July 7 at Woodbine Racetrack. As a result, the horse won't run in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on July 30 at Fort Erie Racetrack.
"Listen, it's all about the horse," Gonzalez said during a telephone interview from Fort Erie, Ont. "You can Triple Crown dream all you want and talk about it but at the end of the day you have to do what's right for the horse.
"In the best interests of Midnight Aria I'm going to pass on this race and give him time to recover from that gruelling humid, hot, rain-soaked track day."
Gonzalez claimed Midnight Aria for $35,000 for owner Tucci Stables on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park. The move certainly paid off as Midnight Aria overcame rain and hot, muggy conditions to win the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate at 16-1 odds and claim the $600,000 winner's share.
"I claimed the horse in January but he had run twice before that and really made his first start in late September so when you tack on a few months before that to get him ready, well, he's been going for a solid year," Gonzalez said. "I knew at one point and time even though we had Queen's Plate dreams back in January when we claimed him . . . getting him to where we wanted to get him was going to take its toll on him.
"He's earned a break. I mean, he's a big, strong horse but he has his limits. He was showing signs of wear and tear and I don't want to bring him (to Fort Erie) with all the pressure and him not being 100 per cent."
That means Wando will remain the last horse to win the Canadian Triple Crown, achieving the milestone in 2003.
Gonzalez said having Midnight Aria run in next month's $500,000 Breeders Stakes, a 1/2-mile turf event and final Triple Crown race, at Woodbine remains in the plans.
"I already know he can handle the distance and he loves the turf," Gonzalez said. "And he will have had time to recover."
Having Midnight Aria run at Fort Erie would've meant more to Gonzalez than simply gunning for the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown. A 40-year veteran of the horse-racing game, Gonzalez not only calls Fort Erie home but began his career at Fort Erie Racetrack.
Midnight Aria's victory earned Gonzalez his second Plate. His first came in 2010 with Big Red Mike, who also went wire-to-wire to capture Canada's most prestigious horse race with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance.
"I know I had said I didn't think anything could ever outdo winning the Queen's Plate in 2010 when the Queen was here," Gonzalez said. "In my mind there was never anything that could happen to me in the racing game that could outdo that.
"But on July 7, believe me, it did. It really, really did."
The 116-year-old Fort Erie track has hosted the Prince of Wales since 1929. But last year's racing season was expected to be the track's last after former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty axed a revenue-sharing agreement that gave racetracks a slice of $345 million in annual slot profits.
In March, new premier Kathleen Wynne announced transition funding agreements with three tracks -- Fort Erie, Georgian Downs and Flamboro Downs -- to ensure racing dates at the three venues for 2013. That gave the Prince of Wales a one-year reprieve at Fort Erie.
However, Gonzalez is optimistic about horse-racing's future, both at Fort Erie and across Ontario.
"We've got a lot to build on this year," he said. "Last year when we concluded our meet (at Fort Erie) we went out on a down note, we didn't know if the track was going to open the next year and there was no reason for anyone to get horses and come back.
"We're not going to do that this year. When the end of September comes and we're closing up shop here, we're going to go out with a bang and we're going to give incentives and we're going to give people a reason to come back and be stronger and better. Period. We've got to."