Lexie Lou earned a commanding 4 1/2-length win Sunday in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks. In fact, Lexie Lou's winning time of 1:49.77 was better than the 1:50.78 posted by Queen's Plate favourite We Miss Artie in the $150,000 Plate Trial Stakes earlier.
That left Lexi Lou's handlers with the question whether to run her against the boys in the Queen's Plate on July 6 or chase the remaining two legs of the Triple Tiara for Canadian-bred three-year-old fillies.
Conditioner Mark Casse missed Sunday's race while attending a horse sale in Florida. But the six-time winner of Canada's top trainer award said he spoke with owner Gary Barber and the decision was made to point the filly towards the Plate.
"As long as she's healthy and happy that will be her next stop," Casse said in a telephone interview Sunday evening.
Assistant trainer Kathyrn Sullivan represented Casse at Sunday's race, however she was unable to call him afterwards with the good news. That's because Sullivan lost both of her cellphones in the walking race prior to the race.
"I haven't talked to Kathryn yet," Casse said with a chuckle. "She did text me saying she was a nervous wreck.
"But we're fortunate to have a lot of great people working with us and I know she did a terrific job."
Jockey Patrick Husbands had Lexie Lou, the 2/1 second choice, sitting second behind stablemate Wild Catomine for much of the race before surging into the lead and cruising for her fourth victory in 11 career starts. The $300,000 winner's share boosted her lifetime earnings over $630,000.
Wild Catomine, also trained by Casse, was second in the nine-horse field, with Llanarmon taking third. Paladin Bay, the 2/1 favourite, was fourth.
"We took a good run at her, like we always do, but Lexie Lou found another gear out there, she just took off again," said Gerry Olguin, the jockey aboard Paladin Bay. "I thought I was going to be second . . . she got tired at the end."
Sunday's race was just Lexie Lou's second since being purchased by Barber and first without blinkers. Husbands rode Lexie Lou to a third-place finish in the $150,000 Fury Stakes event May 10 and felt blinkers weren't necessary.
"The last time she never relaxed," Husbands said. "We worked her twice since the last race without blinkers, no problem.
"In the post parade, she was relaxed."
Only five Oaks winners have gone on to win the Queen's Plate, the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown and this country's most prestigious horse race. The last was Inglorious in 2011.
Sullivan said while Lexie Lou would give away size to the colts in the Plate, she'd have the speed needed to compete.
"She's light and just floats on the track and there's definitely advantages to that," she said. "I think you'd find some people would say that's the kind of horse you'd want and you'd find as many other people saying the other (bigger is better).
"She's put on a little weight and sort of filled out a little bit in the last month. She's just got that big, long, beautiful stride."
And there's the matter of Lexie Lou posting a faster time than We Miss Artie did in the Plate Trial, both races covering 1 1/8 miles.
"Yeah, I know," Sullivan said with a smile. "That's also a debate that will rage on."
We Miss Artie was the overwhelming 1/5 favourite in the Plate Trial, and with good reason. The Todd Pletcher-trained bay colt was the Queen's Plate Winterbook favourite this winter and finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby on May 3.
Sunday's race was not only We Miss Artie's first since the Derby but first-ever at Woodbine. He found himself sitting third, boxed in along the rail at one point but jockey Javier Castellano patiently waited for an opening and when it appeared, he had more than enough horse to respond.
"I think I rode the best horse in the race, I think I rode with a lot of patience," Castellano said. "I let him settle . . . when we turned for home we asked (for) a little bit and he give me a good kick."
Assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale admitted being concerned about We Miss Artie's dire standing late in the race.
"There for a moment you get a little nervous but we knew he would come through in the end," she said. "He's got a big heart and found an opening and went on.
"Javier just kind of saved him at the wire a little bit."
Sullivan was impressed with We Miss Artie's late kick.
"He's a much nicer horse than he is on paper, we've always thought that," she said. "You could see at the top of the turn as soon as he got some room he was full of horse, full of run.
"He will definitely be very tough to run against."
Majestic Sunset was second in the seven-horse field, with Tower of Texas taking third.