Danie Toerien: Only two three-year-olds, both trained by Justin Snaith, have won the Grade 1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate since the turn of the millennium – Gimmethegreenlight in 2012 and Jet Dark in 2021.
On Saturday, Snaith attempts to emulate that feat for a third time when the prestigious race returns for the 161st edition.
Like last year, the champion trainer saddles four contestants. But this year, two are three-year-olds: Pomp And Power, and Pacaya.
A year ago, Jet Dark was described as an optimistic entry, but thanks to Snaith’s brilliant tactics, this son of Trippi flew home to beat legends like Rainbow Bridge and stable companions Do It Again, and Belgarion.
On Saturday at Kenilworth, Pacaya seems to be the Snaith flag-bearer, although the trainer would not admit to what he thinks his best runner might be.
“I don’t put three-year-olds in the Queen’s Plate unless I think they’ve got a realistic chance,” said Snaith when discussing his charges.
“Pacaya is very well. He was very unlucky in the Guineas. He was coming from a long way back and he never got much of a run. You can expect a big improvement from him.
“There’s a reason why he’s in the race, I can promise you,” said Snaith, adding that he’s expecting “exactly” the same kind of performance as produced by Jet Dark last year.
As for Pomp And Power, Snaith would not elaborate, except to say that “Pomp And Power is a very, very tough horse”.
Defending champion Jet Dark and fellow four-year-old Warrior complete the Snaith foursome.
“I will be very happy to see Jet Dark better positioned in this race,” said the trainer. “In his last race (the Grade 2 Green Point Stakes over 1600m) he was never in any position. He will have a lot better of a run in this race than in his previous outing.
“Last time he was a long way back and detached from the field. I think you will see a different horse come Queen’s Plate Day.”
While Snaith was very transparent about his prospects a year ago, he’s playing his cards much closer to his chest this year.
That leaves a big question mark about the trainer’s expectations of Warrior.
“His last gallop was okay,” said Snaith. “I was hoping for a bit better from him.”
Considering that his last run was the Cape Mile, where Warrior beat the likes of July winner Kommetdieding, Nexus, Rascallion and Sovereign Spirit, one can’t help but wonder what “okay” means in the Snaith vocabulary. That race back in November was Warrior’s first after a lengthy rest during which he was also gelded.
“He’s a strange horse. At home he never gives away much, and last time he ran okay. It wasn’t phenomenal.
“I am hoping that Anton (Marcus) could get him to rise to the occasion. I’m very surprised he beat some of the other horses last time.
“Out of all the horses, Warrior was the one needing the run most of all. I was very surprised that he got in front of all of them.
“Whether he’s good enough to beat horses like Rainbow Bridge and Jet Dark is another question. Those horses are of the highest level.”
Snaith, admittedly, is also not giving away much, especially when it comes to race day strategy.
“There’s not much strategy except to win the race,” he said.
“I’m not going to give away too much, except to say we don’t try and manipulate too much. The race must be run at a normal pace and the best horse must win.
“Fingers crossed, it’s one of mine.”
Bettors looking at Snaith’s jockey selection will also be none the wiser. Usually when a trainer saddles multiple runners in a race, the jockey selections give an indication of which horse the yard fancies.
“You cannot go on that in my yard at the moment,” said Snaith when questioned about this.
“It’s impossible nowadays. We are using riders that we think is best for the horse.
“The owners also get a say. If an owner wants a specific jockey on a horse from my yard, he gets it.
“All I can tell you quite frankly is that the jockey selections are very simple – which jockey rides which horse the best. It’s as simple as that.”
While Snaith is not yet prepared to show his hand, it is obvious that he has very high expectations of his runners in the Queen’s Plate and the rest of the card.
“I’ve worked hard for this. Our whole team have worked very hard for this weekend. I can assure you. You can see by the numbers and the strength. We have taken no days off. We’ve worked right through Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, we’ve had no days off.
“We have worked extremely, extremely hard and the results will show.”