TORONTO - September 28 - The field for the Grade 1, $1.5-million Pattison Canadian International, a 1 1/2-mile marathon over the world famous E.P. Taylor Turf Course, to be held on October 14 at Woodbine Racetrack, is beginning to take shape.
The International is one of three Grade 1 Breeders' Cup 'Win & You're In' turf events to be held on a day which also includes the $1-million E.P. Taylor Stakes, a 1 1/4-mile test for fillies and mares; as well as the $500,000 Nearctic Stakes, a six furlong sprint.
The 2010 Pattison Canadian International champion, Joshua Tree, who finished second to filly Sarah Lynx in last year's event, is lined up for a third appearance at the Toronto oval.
The five-year-old Montjeu-Madeira Mist bay captured his International victory under the care of conditioner Aidan O'Brien, but moved to trainer Marco Botti soon after that event.
In his most recent effort, Joshua Tree finished third, defeated 1 1/4-lengths by Japanese Triple Crown winner Orfevre in the Group 2 Qatar Prix Foy, at Longchamp.
"It was another good performance from him and he must be an extremely tough horse as he started off in Dubai during the winter and still seems to be running at his peak," said Botti, in a recent interview with Sporting Life. "He keeps performing at a very high level and it was another good run on Sunday as he was coming back in trip against good horses."
Expected to provide steep opposition in the International is the Shug McGaughey trained Air Support. The four-year-old son of Smart Strike captured the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes, a 1 1/4-mile jaunt over good ground at Belmont Park, on September 8, with John Velazquez in the irons.
The classy Stuart S. Janney homebred is a multiple graded winner with scores in the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont, Grade 3 Transylvania at Keeneland and the Grade 2 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, a race in which Air Support earned a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure.
Potential local competitors for the fall classic include Stormy Lord and Forte Dei Marmi.
Five-year-old gelding Stormy Lord, a nine-time winner trained by Woodbine-based Ian Black, arrives at the International in peak form. In his most recent outing, the diminutive chestnut successfully defended his PTHA President's Cup title with a 2 3/4-length score over good going. Stormy Lord's lone graded win came in last year's Grade 3 Connaught Cup, as the gelding glided over soft going to take the seven-furlong stake by three lengths.
Forte Dei Marmi, trained by dual Hall of Famer Roger Attfield for owner Stella Perdomo, arrived at Woodbine from England last year to finish tenth in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile. The six-year-old Selkirk-Frangy bay stayed on with Attfield following the Mile and in two Woodbine starts this year has recorded a win in the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes and a third, in his most recent start, the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Stakes.
The International is traditionally a good betting race featuring a full field and some strong payouts. Last year's winner, Sarah Lynx, stormed up the rail at odds of 22-1 en route to a four-length score over 11-1 Joshua Tree, with favoured Treasure Beach in third. The triactor paid a remarkable $3,699.
In 2011, Miss Keller, at odds of 11-1, was the local heroine of the E.P. Taylor Stakes. The Attfield mare raced near the back of the pack in the early going and arrived just in time for a head score over a pair of Irish-breds, I'm A Dreamer and Dream Peace. The upset lit up the triactor payout to the tune of $1,612.20.
A potential favourite for the ten-furlong test, offering Grade 1 status and a $1-million purse, is Richard Fahey's Barefoot Lady. The four-year-old Irish-bred bay was captured the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes at Woodbine on September 16, with local jock David Moran in the irons taking over from Jamie Spencer.
Stars to Shine, a multiple stakes winner for Woodbine-based Mark Frostad, is expected to join Barefoot Lady in the starting gate for the E.P. Taylor. The five-year-old daughter of Tale of the Cat-Gaily Lady finished third behind Barefoot Lady in the Canadian, defeated 2 1/4-lengths.
The E.P. Taylor could also represent the North American debut of superstar mare Snow Fairy. The five-year-old daughter of Intikhab-Woodland Dream, a multiple Group 1 winner in Europe, is expected to make her next start in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe. However, if the Longchamp turf comes up soft, trainer Ed Dunlop has speculated Snow Fairy could be re-routed to Woodbine.
Regally Ready, trained by Steve Asmussen, an impressive winner of last year's Nearctic Stakes. The Vinery Stables owned chestnut lasted gate-to-wire at odds of 9-1 in the sharp sprint, covering six furlongs in 1:11.35 over a yielding lawn to defeat favoured Bated Breath by a neck. Locally based Gypsy Ring, at odds of 18-1, was up for show to trigger a staggering $1,324.70 triactor payout.
Regally Ready continued his good form into the $1-million Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint to take a 1 1/2-length score over Country Day as the 2-1 mutuel favourite.
Grand Adventure, a six-year-old son of Grand Slam, trained by Malcolm Pierce, is expected to make his fourth appearance in the Nearctic. The Sam-Son Farm charge finished sixth in 2009; second in 2010; and fourth in 2011.
The dark bay is a five-time winner and has been freshened for his fourth try at the Nearctic. In his most recent effort, the Grade 2 Play the King Stakes on August 26, Grand Adventure closed willingly to be fifth behind Big Band Sound.
Big Band Sound and Artic Fern, who finished sixth and ninth respectively in the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile on September 16, are expected to cut back in distance for the Nearctic.
Dan Vella, who conditions Big Band Sound, has won this race on four occasions including scores with Dargai (1990), King Ruckus (1994), Wild Zone (1995) and Field Commission (2009).
Big Band Sound, who raced in claiming events just last year, has grown into an established top-level horse for Vella in 2012. The five-year-old Bernstein bay finished second in four-consecutive Woodbine stakes (the Jacques Cartier, Grade 3 Vigil, Grade 2 Connaught Cup and Grade 2 King Edward) before breaking through in the Grade 2 Play the King.
Artic Fern, who sprinted to victory in last yearís King Corrie Stakes, has captured a pair of allowance races in 2012 and will be seeking his first graded win for trainer Mike Keogh.
Also featured on the International card will be the $150,000 Grade 3 Durham Cup Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile test for three-year-olds and upwards.
With full fields expected, and a slew of stars from across North America and overseas, handicappers will be just as challenged as the Breeders' Cup Win & Youíre In competitors to find a winner. But, just like the connections of the winning horses, successful punters are always well-rewarded on International day.