When the very best of thoroughbreds compete over long distances of dirt or grass for Grade 1 titles, the spectacle is sure worth watching. On Sunday, a field of 11 will go to post in the 75th running of the Grade 1 $1.5 million Pattison Canadian International, a 1 1/2 mile trip around Woodbine's E.P. Taylor Turf Course. As part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" program, the winner earns a spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf. It is one of three Breeders' Cup Challenge races to be run over the turf at Woodbine that afternoon.
The Canadian International has been contested by many of the greatest horses, jockeys, and trainers in thoroughbred racing history from around the world. Its success as a North American race drawing an international field helped inspire the creation of the Breeders' Cup races in 1984 which were held at Woodbine in 1996.
Most notably, in 1973 the Canadian International was the final race for Secretariat. His 6½ lengths victory is the widest winning margin in the race's history.
Also on Sunday at Woodbine, the distaff counterpart to the International, the Grade 1 $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes, features a field of 13 older fillies and mares going 1 1/4 miles on the turf. The winner earns an automatic entry to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Kicking off the stakes action on the undercard will be the the Grade 2 $500,000 Nearctic Stakes, featuring 11 older horses sprinting 6 furlongs on the turf looking for a trip to the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
Three countries, Great Britain, Ireland and the United States are responsible for the breeding of the eleven entrants that make up this top class Canadian International field. Let's have a complete look from the rail out.
1-LAY TIME/Jimmy Fortune/Andrew Balding--4-year old filly invader has been chasing good ones overseas in G1/G2 company, seeing the likes of The Fugue, Giofra, Elusive Kate and Joviality. Two races back, she prevailed by a nose following a tough stretch battle to capture the G3 Winter Hill Stakes at 10 furlongs and most recently going a furlong further, she was on the short end of a tough stretch battle in the G3 Arc Trial, finishing second by a head. She was cross-entered in the E.P.Taylor Stakes against her own gender, but her connections opt for this spot instead. And why not, seven fillies have been successful in this race, with the most recent being last year's winner (Sarah Lynx). Trainer Balding won this event back in 2003.
2-DANDINO/Jim Crowley/James Fanshawe--Not withstanding a seventh-place outing in July, this 5-year old has been really consistent all year with five in-the-money finishes from six starts. After eighteen straight starts on the turf, he was a good looking winner last out in the G3 September Stakes on the synthetic surface at Kempton. Owns six career wins, but none have come in G1 company. A fourth-place finish is the best he has accomplished in four tries at the G1 level. Hasn't competed in top group company since July of 2011. Possesses a strong late finishing kick, and the long Woodbine turf stretch is the perfect platform to utilize it.
3-FORTE DEI MARMI/John Velazquez/Roger Attfield--Named after the sea town in Northern Italy. Six-year old gelding did the bulk of his racing in Europe under former conditioner Luca Cumani, before heading to North America where he came into the barn of trainer Attfield last year. Debuted for his new trainer in the G1 Woodbine Mile finishing tenth after encountering trouble on the turn. Was then put away for the remainder of the season. This year, he has traveled to Gulfstream, Keeneland, Pimlico and Colonial Downs before getting back to Woodbine and winning the G2 Sky Classic Stakes in August. In that affair, he went from last to first, chasing down pacesetter Stormy Lord inside the sixteenth-pole to win by three-quarters of a length, with Group 1 winner and International rival Scalo, back in third. Last out, he trailed the Northern Dancer field and tried to employ his late kick once again into winning ways, but came up one-and-a-quarter lengths short in a third place effort. His latest run was his first atempt at the 12 furlong distance. Worked a sharp 5 furlongs on Monday.
4-SCALO/Andrasch Starke/Andreas Wohler--With four wins from six starts in 2010, he was bestowed with the top honor of Horse of the Year in Germany, continuing a family tradition, as his sire Lando was voted German Horse of the Year in 1994 and 1995, while Lando's sire Acatenango was accorded the same accolade three years running, in 1985-87. Has run just six times total in 2011-12, all in G1/G2 races, featuring a five-length loss to future Arc de Triomphe winner Danedream when second in a G2 fixture in July of last year. Shipped to Woodbine two months ago and finished a closing third, beaten one length, in the 10 furlong G2 Sky Classic over the turf here. Prepped for this encounter last out in the G1 Northern Dancer at this 12 furlong distance which he is much better suited. Gets blinkers on and a sharp 5 furlong work has him ready.
5-PRINCE WILL I AM/Ramon Dominquez/Michelle Nehei--Versatile horse is a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf, with the first of those coming two years ago in the G1 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park. Was dq'd from second to tenth for causing interference in the Breeders' Cup Marathon before finishing out that season with a score in the G2 W.L. McKnight over the Calder dirt course. After 2011 started off on a high note capturing the G2 Mac Diarmida over the Gulfstream Park green, he competed in just three additional races before being shelved for the remainder of the year. Finally reappeared last month, prepping in the G2 Bernard Beruch. His final preparation at Saratoga was an easy 4 furlong work. This is his first try outside the U.S.
6-WIGMORE HALL/Jamie Spencer/Michael Bell--Five-year-old is a perfect two-for-two over the Woodbine turf, having scored back-to-back victories in the G1 Northern Dancer Stakes. After a lively stretch duel with Al Khali, he successfully defended his title by a hard-fought neck. Until his his triumphant return to Canada, his 2012 campaign had been problematic. In between his two Woodbine victories, he had to endure an eight race losing skid. His only other stakes win, which was his first, came in a thrilling three horse photo in the G2 Jebel Hatta at Meydan in the spring of 2011. Shipped back home to England to prepare for this. Chances diminish if the ground is soft.
7-RELIABLE MAN/Olivier Peslier/Alan Royer-Dupre--Became a Group 1 winner in just his third start as a juvenile when taking the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly. That marked his first start in a stakes race. He produced mix results staying and racing in top company as six of his next seven runs came in G1 races, including last year's Arc where he was well beaten. Hasn't seen the winers circle since a G2 score last September. The grey French raider was fourth in the Prince of Wales Stakes at the Ascot meeting on his first trip to Britain, and ran arguably a career-best when occupying the same position behind Danedream, Nathaniel and St Nicholas Abbey in the King George two starts back. Carries recent Arc winnning rider Peslier.
8-JOSHUA TREE/Lanfranco Dettori/Marco Botti--Returns to Woodbine for a third consecutive appearance in the G1 Pattison Canadian International. Won the 2010 edition under the guidance of trainer Aidan O'Brien. Last year, while in the care of trainer Botti, he finished second. The five-year old comes into the International off an excellent third-place showing in the G2 Prix Foy, beaten just one and one-quarter lengths behind Japan's Triple Crown champion, Orfevre. who was narrowly beaten in last week's Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The five-year-old will be be making his 10th appearance of 2012, and with one of worlds premiere riders aboard, will try to become just the third horse to win two Internationals.
9-AL KHALI/Garrett Gomez/Bill Mott--A regular participant at the G1 level who is always close, but has never won such an event. Was fourth in the 2009 renewal of the International. Is in very good form at the moment after three in-the-money finishes. In his latest venture, the G1 Northen Dancer Stakes, he was game right to the wire, but was beaten by Wigmore Hall who was winning the event for the second consecutive time. In last year's running, Al Khali was third behind that same rival. Prior to that, ran second in the G1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga to arguably North America's best turf runner in Point Of Entry. Three back, he checked in third in the G1 United Nations Cup. Will be extremely comfortable with the 12 furlong distance, however, soft ground would be a detriment to his chances. Latest work for this was an excellent 4 furlong breeze.
10-IMPERIAL MONARCH/Ryan Moore/Aidan O'Brien--By the slim margin of a head, this 3-year old colt, in just his fourth lifetime start garnered a G1 victory in impressive fashion in the Grand Prix de Paris. In that affair, his first attempt at 12F, this talented horse did the dirty work when making all the running and defeated rivals that had already acheived G1 status. In his initial G1 encounter, the Prix du Jockey Club, he was handed a bad draw and never had anywhere to run throughout the entire race. After a seven-month layoff following his maiden win, he made a winning reappearance in the G3 Classic Trail. Will be suited by softer ground and the 12F distance. O'Brien, who seeks a record-tying third International victory, has a nice winning percentage shipping to North America (19%) and gives his colt first time Lasix.
11-AIR SUPPORT/Javier Castellano/Claude McGauhey--Comes into this international affair off a win as the 7-5 favorite in the G2 Bowling Green Stakes on opening day of the Belmont Park fall meet. The win by a head in the final strides before the wire was the 4-year old colt's first win in a half-dozen starts this season. He has now won a graded stakes in each of his three seasons on the lawn. His only venture into G1 company was two starts ago in the United Nations Cup, finishing second by one and three-quarter lengths. Should have no issues with the distance or turf conditions. He is a consistent runner, but is light on G1 experience in a field of G1 winners.
It's unclear as to who will take on the role of the pacesetter in here, as the entire field prefers to run from mid-pack and beyond,
I prefer SCALO in this spot. The 5-year old Group 1 winner has been stabled at Woodbine since mid-August and has been exclusively pointed for this target. He's now had the benefit of two runs over the local turf surface, with his last start being much improved. This race marks his third effort off the layoff, often a horses best. He loves the 1 1/2 miles, but he was left with too much to do last out, and without much pace in here, he'll need to be closer, so he gets equipped with blinkers and that change should put him into the race much sooner. In addition, a change in riders to world-class Starke, who won the Arc in 2011, signals all systems are go. Scalo's charge down the long stretch should get him home first.
IMPERIAL MONARCH and RELIABLE MAN are both Group 1 winners. The former hasn't raced since July, while the latter had an easy prep 3 weeks ago. Reliable Man has been given plenty of exposure in some of the top G1 races over in Europe and has performed very well while facing far better fields than has Imperial Monarch. But O'Brien's charge has won three of four and he did win comfortably following a seven month layoff, albeit in Group 3. Neither would be a surprise.
WIGMORE HALL is a dual Grade 1 winner over the Woodbine turf. His last race was his best lifetime effort and a vast improvement from his Arlington showing. If the tough stretch battle of the Northern Dancer didn't have any negative affects, he should be in line for a peak effort under Spencer. Rain might be in the forcast and if so, the soft ground may damper him from delivering his best.
It's been a long time since the 2010 Canadian International winner JOSHUA TREE won another G1 race (Sept. 2011). The 5-year old floundered when he was housed at Meydan Racecourse earlier this year, but since vacating Dubai, his form is definately on the improve. Was second in this race last year and appears to be coming into this year's edition on a similar pattern as he did in 2010 and 2011, and for that reason he can't be dismissed.
As for the others, it would be a major suprise should the International winner come from a member of this group. Collectively, they have won just a single G1 race and certainly look exposed compared to the quintet that are more accomplished.
SCALO to win and exacta boxes with both Reliable Man and Imperial Monarch.
Good luck and as always, enjoy the race!