Reliable Man heads a field of 10 in Sunday’s $1.5 million Pattison Canadian International over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course at Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday. Even though the son of Dalakhani hasn’t won a race since last September, he will take some beating in the 1 ½-mile turf contest, which shines the spotlight on the Toronto racing scene and capture the attention of an international audience.
Trained by Alain DeRoyer-Dupre, the four-year-old grey colt has been keeping company with the best distance runners in Europe. The trio of Danedream, Nathaniel and St. Nicholas Abbbey finished in front of Reliable Man in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on July 21 at Ascot. Any of the three would be a heavy favorite in this weekend’s Pattison Canadian International and Reliable Man was only 1 ¾ lengths behind, earning a lofty Racing Post Rating of 124 over a course rated good to soft.
One race earlier, in the Prince of Wales Stakes at 1 ¼ miles over good terrain, Reliable Man finished closing fourth to the globetrotting multiple Group 1 winner So You Think – another star that, on paper, would crush the average field assembled for this year’s International.
Whether the turf on Sunday is firm or a bit soft, Reliable Man doesn’t appear to have any trouble handling it – which is an advantage since most Europeans ship to North America and have trouble getting accustomed to the firmer courses. Three of this British-bred’s four wins came on firm courses in France, including the Group 2 Prix Niel, which he won by two lengths, apparently ‘under wraps’ according to his past performance line. The longest lane in North America could give this stretch-runner ample opportunity to return to his Niel form.
He’ll be guided Sunday by Olivier Peslier, who has ridden him the past two events, including his runner up finish to Maxios at prohibitive odds in La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte on September 21. Many will look at the event as a disappointment, but if you watch the replay Peslier didn’t appear to ask for much in the final quarter mile in the colt’s first assignment off since Ascot. Translation: prep race. Peslier’s last win at Woodbine came in the E.P. Taylor Stakes aboard Kool Kat Katie in 1997. His last trip to Toronto was in 2007, a 10th place finish aboard Irish Wells.
Not sure why Imperial Monarch was made the morning line choice over Reliable Man here. The Aidan O’Brien trainee loses the service of the master conditioner’s son Nicholas O’Brien and just hasn’t faced the opposition that Reliable Man has faced. The three-year-old is 3-for-4 lifetime including a Group 1 triumph in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris on July 14 over soft terrain at Longchamp. Apparently, he got a bit bored in the final furlong of the event and almost coughed up the victory, which was exactly three months ago. Current form is a question mark. Sophomores in Europe don’t just skip August and September for no reason. He’s never seen firm ground in his career and chances are even an E.P. Taylor Turf Course that’s seen a bit of rain is firmer than he’s ever experienced. With an absence of early speed signed on, he should be in front as the field makes the first furlong climb up to the top of the course. How much he has left for the long stretch is another matter.
Even though he hasn’t Beyered in the triple digits since his win in Virginia, Air Support might be worth a look at a price. He’s seen nothing but tepidly-run races this year and finally adjusted in the Bowling Green by staying closer to the pace. Under John Velazquez, he was up to win the five-horse event by a head, as a result. His figures seem to decline considerably over yielding ground. If the course doesn’t dry out considerably, he might be in trouble. From a wide post, he may not be as likely to tuck in and save ground on the inner part of the course, which are traditionally the first to dry out. Al Khali defeated him in Kentucky but he turned the tables on the six-year-old in the United Nations at Monmouth Park. Al Khali was a gallant second to Wigmore Hall in the Northern Dancer. Both stretch runners are also in the International.
If Prince Will I Am were entering with two starts beside his name in 2012 instead of just one, he’d be a live longshot in the International. It’s a tall task to enter this tough event off just one even-looking start. Sounds like he’s a bit of a wise-guy horse based on the attention he’s received in the limited local media coverage of the $1.5 million event. He was shut down after a lack-luster performance over yielding turf in the Manhattan. If it was the condition of the course that caused such a disappointment then it’s safe to say the hiatus wouldn’t have happened. The fact that the Michelle Nihei camp is telling us that they didn’t find anything wrong and just figured he needed time is somewhat odd. The five-year-old Group 1 winner is a ridgling so perhaps the commentary shields are up in hopes of landing a sweet stud deal still. You never know in this business. Talk is a good performance in Toronto will land him a trip west to the Breeders’ Cup Mararthon so it is best to watch him finish a non-threatening fourth or fifth in here under regular rider Ramon Dominguez, who is also riding E.P. Taylor contender Dream Peace for Chad Brown.
Wigmore Hall will attempt to win the Northern Dancer and the Canadian International, a feat which has proven difficult to do. For whatever reason, the Mike Bell trainee is clearly a better horse in North America than he is in Europe. Al Khali has been a bit of a hard-luck punching bag of sorts in recent years. An all-out finish resulting in a photo with him isn’t particularly flattering , especially at a short price. Lack of pace doesn’t help his cause.
Keep an eye on the other turf events today and monitor where the winning moves are coming from. Last year’s yielding course featured a longshot that scooted right up the unused inner part of the course. Something similar could easily happen today…