THE LONDON FREE PRESS
Tuesday, June 22, 1999
Joe Walls isn't D. Wayne Lukas.
And Walls is confident any parallels between his former horse, Lenny the Lender, and Lukas' Charismatic will end on Sunday.
Woodbine trainer Walls lost Lenny the Lender in a $40,000 claiming race this spring. Lenny, now under the studious care of trainer Rita Schnitzler, is being viewed in some stalls as a serious contender for the Queen's Plate on Sunday. Charismatic, of course, was the horse Lukas entered in a claiming race and, after there were no takers, later became famous by winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
But Walls has no fears that Lenny the Lender is the Plate winner he let get away.
"I would quit training if he won," Walls said yesterday at the annual Queen's Plate barbecue. "I would hand in my trainer's licence. After this race, you won't hear much about him."
Walls said he tried to sell the chestnut gelding for $50,000 during the winter. With no takers, he entered Lenny in a $40,000 claimer on April 17. Walls got the winner's share of the purse but lost the horse when Schnitzler claimed him.
"It's a long winter, it's a long time between paycheques and sometimes you put a horse in a claimer," said Walls, who for the first time in his career has his own Plate starter in Fadder Ted.
"I own half of these. They have to pay for themselves or you're out of business. I knew what his value was. He's not in the league as the one I've got. "But Rita does a nice job, all the best."
In its 140th running, the Plate is thick in history and royal tradition, but in the opinion of Walls and several other horsemen, this year's renewal is not deep in talent.
With no dominant steed to fear, 19 horses still are pointing to the opening jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, be they former claimers, late- bloomers or horses with just one win.
And if you listen to backstretch whispers, a few more could enter. With room for just 17, those with the most money earned will secure a spot in the 1 1/4-mile race.
"It's not as if there's some big horse coming in to scare everybody away," said Walls, whose son Mickey is Woodbine's leading jockey and will ride one of the favourites, Woodcarver. "It's basically a race for non-winners of three this year and everyone wants to take their shot."
Besides the $500,000 purse, owners also will be eyeing the return of a $500,000 Triple Crown bonus for the sweep of the Plate, Prince of Wales and Breeders' Stakes.
As for Lenny the Lender, Schnitzler and owner Victor Deschenes didn't claim the son of Lac Ouimet on a whim, they had the Plate in mind.
"He ran four times as a two-year-old and every race was an improving one," said Schnitzler, who trained last year's Plate runner-up, Brite Adam. "It looked to me like he was a horse who was progressing, could handle the distance and was really just figuring things out."
After winning his first start for Schnitzler on May 1, Lenny the Lender ran into Plate prominence by finishing second in the Marine Stakes on May 23.
From there, Schnitzler -- trying to make Lenny the Lender her claim to fame as the first woman to train a Plate winner -- opted to bypass the traditional Plate preps.
"He's not the kind of horse that needs a lot of racing," Schnitzler said.
Illustration: photo by Mike Cassese
LENDER IS BORROWED ... Queen's Plate hopeful Lenny the Lender was lost in a claiming race by trainer Joe Walls but has flourished under new trainer Rita Schnitzler.
Copyright 1999, The London Free Press Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.