Thirty years ago, Peteski won the Queen’s Plate and went on to sweep the Canadian Triple Crown ‒ but what happened during those three races turned into a soap opera of sorts, the likes of which hadn’t happened at the time and haven’t happened since.
Sired by 1978 U.S. Triple Crown winner Affirmed and out of the Nureyev mare Vive, Peteski was bred by Montreal’s Barry Schwartz and trained by Roger Attfield. Schwartz named the flashy chestnut colt after his son.
Peteski broke his maiden in his third career start, winning a six-furlong race at Woodbine by 10 lengths. That caught the attention of New York businessman Earle I. Mack, the former chairman of the New York Racing Commission and someone who regularly supported Canadian racing. He had been looking for a Canadian Triple Crown horse, and Mack liked the breeding and had the horse vetted for soundness. He subsequently bought the horse for $150,000 USD.
Peteski had earned a paltry $714 as a two-year-old, so notwithstanding his impressive maiden win he gave no indication he could be a future Triple Crown winner.
But Peteski had the pedigree to go the classic distance and had a trainer who knew how to get him there. Mack stayed with Attfield, who had a history of winning the Plate with five previous victories. He swept the Triple Crown in 1989 and 1990 with With Approval and Izvestia, respectively.
Two weeks after his first career win, Peteski ran for the first time for Mack. Jockey Don Seymour wore Mack’s maroon-and-yellow silks with an image of the rising sun and cruised to a seven-length victory going two turns for the first time. He followed it up with a five-length win.
In the Plate Trial, American-based Craig Perret, winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1990 with Unbridled, came in to ride Peteski for the first time. Seymour was committed to Cheery Knight in the Plate for Attfield’s primary client, Kinghaven Farms. Kinghaven owned the horse with breeder Rod Ferguson and T.C. Racing Stable. The plan was to have Perret get acquainted with Peteski, whom he would ride in the Plate. Sent postward as the 3-5 favorite, Peteski battled for the early lead with Circulating, ridden by Richard Dos Ramos, whose odds were more than 6-1. Peteski inherited the lead after a quarter mile but gave way to Circulating, the Queen’s Plate Winterbook Favourite, going into the stretch and finished a half-length back in second.
Peteski had a five-eighths of a mile workout a few days before the Plate with Seymour aboard in a snappy 58 4/5 seconds. Clearly, Attfield had the horse primed to flash his early speed. He also had Peteski racing for the first time with Lasix.
The enthusiasm bettors had for Peteski in his previous races dwindled for the Plate. He went postward at more than 4-1 odds; Cheery Knight drew the public’s fancy as the favourite at just over 8-5 odds. Cheery Knight had won his previous three races, including the Marine Stakes, in his final prep for the Plate.
Perret sent Peteski to the front immediately and guided him through tepid fractions of 23 4/5, 47 4/5 and 1:12 3/5. It was simply too easy for Perret at that point with no pressure from behind. Peteski led by fourth lengths at the top of the stretch and won ridden out by six lengths in a pedestrian time of 2:04 1/5. Cheery Knight, who had been back of the pack, simply had too much ground to make up and placed second.
It was an emphatic victory and a proud one for Mack, who won the biggest race in his racing career that started exactly 30 years before. Coincidentally, the win happened on his 57th birthday, and he became the first New York resident to capture the Plate. The win was worth $218,600, so Mack essentially reclaimed the money he spent to buy Peteski.
Attfield recorded his fourth Queen’s Plate win in seven years.
In the post-race media conference on the sixth floor of Woodbine, Perret gushed about the colt.
“He did what we thought he could do,” Perret said. “I gave him his cue at the start of the final turn and no one could match him. He’s a game horse that I could do pretty much anything I wanted. I didn’t think he could win by that much over Cheery Knight, but that’s the way it worked out.”
When asked what happened in the Plate Trial, Perret said, “I felt I could have won the Trial, but the purpose of that race was to get ready for this one [the Plate]. He ran a good race in the Trial, but the Plate itself was the goal.”
He was not the first jockey to utter such remarks, though not in those exact words, but this subsequently caught the attention of Ontario Racing Commission chairman Frank Drea. “These are very serious matters,” Drea told the Globe and Mail’s Neil Campbell.
Drea charged Perret with failing to ride or persevere to win, and conduct detrimental to racing. Essentially, it was felt Perret was not trying to win the race and cheating the bettors, who would not have been privy to the plan.
In less than 24 hours, the glorious Queen’s Plate win hung underneath a dark cloud of suspicion.
A hearing followed, because the matter had to be addressed before the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, in less than two weeks at Fort Erie Racetrack. Several witnesses were brought before the hearing, which at times had the kind of drama seen in a television show. Drea ran the ORC with an iron fist and wanted all aspects of betting to be exposed. In one instance he was aghast when one of the witnesses, George Williams, the Daily Racing Form Trackman, said wagering was common in the press box, which had betting terminals. It actually drew some chuckles from some of those in attendance.
Perret was ordered to appear before the ORC the following week. He testified he gave 110% in the race. Woodbine jockeys said they fully supported him when asked by the media about their thoughts.
Mack was asked whether he would have to find a replacement rider.
“I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to that,” he said. “That’s just the way I’m going to address the situation.”
But behind the scenes, Mack was busy making plans for who would replace Perret if he faced a suspension. He was also counselling Perret, whose pristine character in racing had suddenly come under attack.
Drea was not about to let the international horse racing story pass without some consequence. Perret was slapped with a $4,000 fine, suspended 15 calendar days, which all North American racing jurisdictions would honour, and ordered to make a public apology for his remarks. He did not appeal the penalty.
Woodbine-based Dave Penna gained the mount on Peteski in the Prince of Wales. Penna kept the horse just off of the lead but made his move heading into the stretch. He had a three-length lead and finished four lengths to the good, setting a track record of 1:54 2/5 for the mile and three-sixteenths race on the dirt. Peteski went forward as the 6-5 favourite.
Three weeks later came the Breeders’ Stakes, the final jewel of the Triple Crown, and this time Perret was back aboard. It was basically felt Perret would have to fall off the horse to lose because Peteski was much the best and had the pedigree to handle the switch to the grass. The public made Peteski the 1-10 favourite in the compact field of four.
A few strides out of the gate, Perret suddenly faced an unexpected problem when his saddle slipped and he was without the use of his irons for the remainder of the 1½ mile race. But he set easy fractions and no one came close to pressing Peteski, who won by six lengths in a slow time of 2:30 2/5.
CBC analyst Jim Bannon said after the race he picked up on the saddle slipping and noted it happens sometimes when a jockey takes too hard a hold of a horse.
“This is not the way a jockey would usually ride a horse way up on his withers with just a sixteenth of a mile to the wire,” Bannon said. “If somebody had come along with a big challenge, Craig Perret did not have the proper purchase in the saddle to guide this horse properly. It was just that this horse was too good.”
Broadcaster Dan Kenny caught up with Perret after the race and asked about the saddle. Perret admitted it slipped a sixteenth of a mile out of the gate.
“Of all these things that are going to happen, look what happens now, but he’s a good horse, he loves the grass, and I was just along for the ride,” Perret said.
Kenny welcomed Perret back to Toronto and said the fans were really gentle with him when he rode in an earlier stakes race on the card, although he got a few raspberries coming through the tunnel.
“All is forgiven?” Kenny asked?
“All is forgiven,” said Perret said succinctly.
A new Triple Crown winner joined the others that had preceded him, and the controversy that developed during it was put to rest, although it would always be a part of history. Peteski was subsequently voted Canadian Horse of the Year.
Watch the running of the 1993 Queen’s Plate here:
Perry Lefko covered Thoroughbred racing for the Toronto Sun from 1987-1995, has won five Sovereign Awards and has written two books about racing. The first book is about the history of the Breeders’ Cup entitled The Greatest Show On Turf, and he helped jockey Sandy Hawley with his autobiography, Ride Of A Lifetime.