TORONTO — Luis Contreras has been here before.
The Mexican-born jockey will lead early 3-1 favourite Holy Helena into the $1-million Queen's Plate on Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack. The dark bay is not only trying to become the first filly since Lexie Lou in 2014 to capture the Plate after winning the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, but also be the first filly to earn the first jewel of Canada's Triple Crown for Stronach Stables.
"It (being favourite) is good for me, I prefer to be one of the favourites," Contreras said Wednesday following the race draw at Woodbine. "I've won it with a filly (2011 aboard Inglorious) and it's happened before so why not again?"
Inglorious was Contreras' first Plate mount. He rallied the filly from 10th position through three-quarters of a mile to a remarkable 2 1/2-length win over 60-1 longshot Hippolytus.
In the 1 1/8-mile Oaks on June 11, Contreras and Holy Helena sat third behind Enstone and Mythical Mission on the final turn. But a strong late kick earned Holy Helena her second victory in three career starts.
She also posted a faster time than 20-1 longshot Guy Caballero did in winning the $125,000 Plate Trial, also run over 1 1/8 miles June 11.
"That day, what really impressed me was how she finished and how she handled the whole race," Contreras said. "She handled it like a professional and that makes me very excited."
The daughter of Ghostzapper will break from the No. 3 post in the 13-horse field Sunday. While that creates the potential challenge of traffic, Contreras remains unfazed.
"I know that filly can handle any part of it," he said confidently. "Last time, she was OK in the gate so I'm not worried about that."
And Mike Doyle, Stronach Stables' racing manager, isn't worried about Holy Helena handling the 1 1/4-mile race distance.
"It's right up her alley," he said. "She's a really nice horse.
"She's very easy to be around and easy to train."
The other starting positions with post, horse, jockey and odds, include: 1) Channel Maker, Rafael Hernandez, 4-1; 2) Guy Caballero, Jose Ortiz, 10-1; 4) Spirit of Caledon, Jerome Lermyte, 50-1; 5) Inflexibility, Javier Castellano, 10-1; 6) King and His Court, Gary Boulanger, 5-1; 7) State of Honor, Patrick Husbands, 8-1; 8) Malibu Secret, Alan Garcia, 20-1; 9) Megagray, Jesse Campbell, 30-1; 10) Vaughan, Slade Callaghan, 50-1; 11) Aurora Way, Julien Leparoux, 6-1; 12) Tiz a Slam, Eurico Rosa da Silva, 10-1; 13) Watch Me Strut, David Moran, 30-1.
Holy Helena and Inflexibility will be the lone fillies in the field. They'll carry 121 pounds, five pound less than the others.
Trainer Roger Attfield chases a record ninth Plate victory with Tiz a Slam, which was the 3-1 Winterbrook pick for the race.
Conditioners Catharine Day Phillips and Mark Casse will both saddle two horses Sunday. Day Phillips's hopes rest with Guy Caballero and Watch Me Strut while Casse, nine times Canada's top trainer, sends King and His Court along with State of Honor postward.
As a 10-1 pick, Day Phillips doesn't feel Guy Caballero is being disrespected or overlooked.
"He doesn't know what his odds are," she said. "He's training well.
"He won the Plate Trial at long odds so I guess it's only natural."
Despite posting a slower time than Holy Helena, Guy Caballero won the Plate Trial in dramatic fashion. The horse named for the fictional Second City character came from last to secure the victory.
"He did finish first, he ran a good race," Day Phillips said. "I think he's a better, stronger horse than he was last year.
"He's more strategic, relaxes more and finishes. I think that's what makes him better."
If there is a concern, though, it's starting from the No. 2 post.
"I think traffic is always an issue especially when you have a come-from-behind horse," Day Phillips said. "It becomes a strategic race.
"It depends on how much speed there is. Hopefully he won't be so far out of it that he has to deal with horses stopping in front of him."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press