Strait of Dover's season is over.
The Queen's Plate winner has been shut down for the remainder of the 2012 thoroughbred campaign because of a ligament ailment. Trainer Dan Vella figures the prized three-year-old was injured just over a week ago during a training session in preparation for the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, slated for Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack.
Strait of Dover was generally regarded as the horse to beat in the Breeders' Stakes, the 1.5-mile turf event and final jewel of Canadian racing's Triple Crown.
"To be honest, if you were to look at his leg now you wouldn't see (the injury) anymore," Vella said Monday. "But the injury is inside and it's still there and by running him you'd take the chance of ending his career and that's not an option.
"You don't get horses like this very often. He has accomplished a lot already this year and the long-term goal is have him healthy again and prove he wasn't just a one-time wonder and maybe even travel in the U.S. and try him there. We'll give him the time. These are animals, they are not machines."
Vella said Strait of Dover performed very well in the workout on the turf training track at Woodbine. But the ligament injury surfaced the following day and became worse two days after the session.
Still, Vella is very optimistic Strait of Dover will be able to continue racing in 2013.
"Anytime a horse has any injury you're never 100 per cent sure," Vella said. "But the longterm prognosis is very good."
Strait of Dover hasn't run since a brilliant wire-to-wire victory in the $1-million Queen's Plate on June 24 at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack. Strait of Dover topped the 14-horse field in the 1 1/4-mile race – North America's oldest continuously run stakes event – in a record time of two minutes 1.99 seconds with jockey Justin Stein aboard.
The win was the fourth in seven career starts for Strait of Dover and earned Vella, twice named Canada's top trainer, his second Plate victory. Vella's first came in 1994 with Basqueian.
But Strait of Dover's handlers opted to skip the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes last month at Fort Erie Racetrack because of the horse's struggles on dirt, the surface at Fort Erie.
Strait of Dover's difficulty on dirt was a major reason why owners Wally and Terry Leong decided to move their horse from Hastings Park in Vancouver to Woodbine.
Strait of Dover has thrived on Woodbine's polytrack, his impressive Queen's Plate win was his fourth straight on the surface since making the move from B.C. What's more, Strait of Dover hasn't finished out of the money at Woodbine – he won his first race there last November but was relegated to third after being disqualified.
Strait of Dover was fifth and sixth in his first two career starts on the dirt at Hastings Park.
"We believe he'll handle the grass as well as he handles the polytrack," Vella said. "Our long-term goal is to try and win big races on both surfaces but we're just going to have to wait.
"It's very disappointing because I think he would've been the favourite in the Breeders' and I think he would've proven he likes the grass. He was sitting on the edge of big things."
The absence of Strait of Dover is a blow to Sunday's race but the projected field still includes quality.
Filly Dixie Strike, the Prince of Wales winner and third-place finisher in the Queen's Plate, is expected to run, as is Irish Mission, another filly that was second to Strait of Dover in the Plate but a disappointing sixth in the Prince of Wales. Ultimate Destiny, the second-place finisher at Fort Erie, is also expected to head to the starter's gate Sunday.
Vella said even if the Breeders' Stakes was being run at a later date, Strait of Dover's handlers would've still decided to err on the side of caution.
"You could run this horse it's not impossible because if you were to get a top horseman to look at his leg now he wouldn't see anything," Vella said. "But it's not work the risk.
"Like I said, we think he's certainly capable of big things. We just have to be patient and let him do it on his schedule."