Saturday, October 14, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Canadian International (G1)

Canadian International - Will there be an Erupt-ion at Woodbine?

By: Nick Costa, Trackside with Trackman

We head north of the border Sunday to visit Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario, the scene of the biggest race of the weekend - the Grade 1 Canadian International. A quality group of horses, three-year old and upward, will travel 1 1/2-miles over the beautiful and spacious E.P. Taylor turf course for the winner's share of a very nice $800,000 purse.

A field of 10 will enter the gate for the 80th renewal of this elite event, including a pair of runners from two of the top American trainers, Michael Maker and Graham Motion. Also, another top name whose horses will grace the grounds at Woodbine on Sunday is legendary conditioner, Aidan O'Brien. The 48-year old Irish trainer, who sends over Idaho for this affair, is certainly no stranger when it comes to winning major world class races. He has amassed 300 of them, which span across four continents and nine countries. Among that success is two Canadian International victories (2002 - 2010). 

O'Brien has won 23 G1 races in 2017, two shy of the all-time record set in a calendar year, held by another legend, the late Bobby Frankel. O'Brien could equal or break the record prior to Sunday as three of his runners participate in G1 events Friday and Saturday in Europe. Another horse that gives the O'Brien team added ammunition is, Rain Goddess, the three-year old filly is entered in the G1 E.P. Taylor Stakes one race before the feature event. 

If the record does fall, this weekend, where will it happen? Europe or Canada? Only time will tell, but of course, hopes are high for the local population that they can witness the record breaking historical moment at Woodbine. 

Since its inception in 1938 when the race began on dirt, the Canadian International has seen its fair share of changes: Location/venue, distance, surface, and purse value. The race was switched over to the grass beginning in 1958. 

Back on October 28th, 1973, racing fans fortunate enough to be at Woodbine, witnessed the mighty Secretariat make his final start in the Canadian International. 
The distance of the race at the time, and right up until 1986, was 1-5/8-miles, and contested over the Marshall turf course, which was situated on the outside of the old dirt track, then would cross over the dirt to the inner turf course. 

It was a real challenge for horses to navigate such a setup, but with Secretariat being such an incredible athlete, neither the soft footing from the rains that were falling, the extra distance of ground, nor track configuration prevented the 1973 Triple Crown champion from winning on that cold, damp, dreary and foggy late afternoon. Big Red romped home, crossing the finish line 6 1/2-lengths in front of his nearest rival. His margin of victory is the widest winning margin in the history of the race.

By contrast, the nose victory by Mutafaweg in 2000 is the smallest winning margin.

The first Canadian International winner over the E.P. Taylor course, was Raintrap, in 1994. His winning time of 2:25.60 is the fastest recorded in the race for the 1-1/2 miles.

Post time for this year's edition, race 10 on the card is set for 6:10pm E.S.T.

Let's look at the participants from the rail out.

PP - Horse - Jockey/Trainer
1 - Oscar Nominated – Julian Leparoux/Michael Maker--He is a bona-fide turf runner who has been very consistent throughout his career. Hasn't really thrown in a start that can be described as a poor performance. Even his two G1 races where he finished seventh and eighth at Monmouth and Arlington, respectively, were good showings as he wasn't beat by all that much in either event. He's been on the fringes of graded stakes success all year and last time out at Kentucky Downs, the drop to G3 company got the job done.

2 - Flamboyant - Joel Rosario/Patrick Gallagher--Following a half-dozen races in France, he arrived here in North America into the care of his current trainer and promptly won his U.S. debut at Santa Anita in a minor stakes. Other than a couple of trips to New York and another to Dubai, he's strictly been campaigned in California. Owns plenty of experience in turf marathons and graded stakes, but this multiple G2 winner hasn't won a race in nearly two years.

3 - Enterprising – Rafael Hernandez/Michael Maker--Spent his entire juvenile and sophomore seasons racing in California where he had some success in listed and black-type stakes. He did manage to win the G3 La Jolla while out west. Registered back-to-back graded stakes victories at the Fairgrounds earlier this in the year, and ran very well when finishing fourth contesting the G1 Arlington Million, despite being in tight quarters in the stretch run. His nine wins from his 33 races have been sporadic and against softer competition.

4 - Idaho - Ryan Moore/Aidan O'Brien--As a three-year old colt last year sporting a fancy record, he was made the betting favorite, but ended up disappointing his backers when finishing fifth. Launched his four-year old campaign with a non-threatening 6th-place finish in the Coronation Cup, then had back-to-back races at Ascot, winning the G1 Hardwicke Stakes and finishing third behind Enable in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. He faltered again as the betting choice in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, then checked in eighth in the 18-horse Arc de Triomphe, captured convincingly by Enable.

5 - Johnny Bear – Luis Contreras/Ashlee Brnjas—Has only raced at three different tracks, Tampa Bay and Gulfstream for winter time and here at Woodbine, where he's based the rest of the year. Made a gigantic leap into G1 company last out in the Northern Dancer Stakes, and the rise in class proved successful when he chased down the leader with a determined stretch run, catching that foe near the wire and getting the victory.

6 - Postulation – Jorge Vargas/Edward Graham--After coming over from Ireland where he won a few races, he's competed stateside for a couple of years before finally breaking through this season with a wire-to-wire score in a minor stake at Delaware Park. Doubled up in the win column with a convincing score in the G3 American St Leger, then lost a tough stretch battle by a head last out at Kentucky Downs. He now encounters the winner of that affair in here. This marks his first Grade 1 appearance.

7 - Bullards Alley – Eurico Rosa da Silva/Tim Glyshaw—Well-traveled with visits to 11 different racing venues, including here at Woodbine back in the summer where he just missed winning the G2 Singspiel Stakes. He's winless this year and has never won above the G3 level. This is his first go at Grade 1 competition.

8 - Messi – Jose Ortiz/Graham Motion--Seven-year old has raced on this side of the Atlantic since last summer after arriving from Germany where he was bred and began his career. He's won a Grade 3 and a Grade 2, so connections are hoping he can finally add a G1 title to his long resume of races. He came close to getting that G1 in the Northern Dancer last start over this turf course, but he was blocked in the stretch, and when finally clear, his rally up the rail was short by three-quarters of a length. He won the 10-furlong Sky Classic Stakes here last summer.

9 - Erupt – Junior Alvarado/Graham Motion--Has earned frequent-flyer miles with stops on three continents. Won the first four races of his career in France in 2015, then didn't win another race for 15-months when he erupted (pun intended) at 12-1 odds to win this race last October. Defending champion is winless in three starts this season although he finished fourth in his seasonal debut in the G1 Prix Ganay behind winner Cloth of Stars, who subsequently was runner-up in the Arc behind filly sensation Enable. 

10 - Chemical Charge – Oisin Murphy/ Ralph Beckett--Irish-bred invader has also made several stops at different racing venues, but over in Europe, where he's done all his racing. Won a Group 3 on the Kempton Park Polytrack last month. He's run very well on turf this year with two wins, two seconds and a third. All but two of his 13 races have been at a-mile-and-a-quarter or beyond. Testing the Grade 1 waters for the first time.


Like any major turf race that involves the Euro's, that where I begin my handicapping assessment. Why?  1) Because runners shipping from Europe are often among the best grass horses in the world, and 2) European shippers have dominated the International in recent years, winning the last six years.

European racing is so far superior to North American grass racing, that horses coming out of the Group 1 events over in England, France, Ireland and Germany sometimes appear to be taking a drop in class when they meet opponents in Grade 1 races on this side of the Atlantic. And when the Grade 1 race here lacks bona-fide North American Grade 1 horses, as is the case in this year's International, the Euro's often hold a distinct class edge.

A quick perusal of the running lines of both Erupt and Idaho indicates the strength of the company they have faced. A few of the opponents they have fared well against are top rated racehorses on the globe that would tower enormously over this field if sent over to contest this affair. 

Erupt, looking to defend his title, enters this race off an identical layoff as last year, and gets first-time Lasix for a high-profile trainer with a high win percentage in the category. Idaho, exiting the Arc de Triomphe, arguably the greatest horse race in the world, where his eighth-place finish in the 18-horse field was far better than it appeared, looks to improve upon last year's fifth-place outing. Both certainly have the class, having proven themselves several times at the highest level of racing, and one of them should prevail here.

Note: There is a 90% chance of precipitation for the Toronto region on Sunday, so the impending weather could factor heavily in the outcome. Erupt, prefers his turf firm, while Idaho’s best results have come on rain softened footing. With that said, I’ll side with the O’Brien runner and hope fans can witness history again.

Some thoughts about a few of the others I will use in exactas and superfectas. Chemical Charge, another invader from Europe, has plenty of experience at this marathon distance with excellent results, and wasn't that far behind Idaho at Ascot. He too goes first-time Lasix. Messi was blocked in the stretch of the Northern Dancer at a critical time, and it may have cost him the victory in the Northern Dancer.

The winner of that race, Johnny Bear, the Woodbine horse that took a quantum leap forward to G1 company, will receive plenty of local fan support, and is currently in the best form of his life. Oscar Nominated just never seems to run a bad race and is always in the mix.

Good luck, and as always, enjoy the race.

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