Once again, Picks and Ponderings hits the road this weekend. Once again, that road trip takes us north of the border.
This piece previews the four stakes on Sunday's Canadian International Day card at Woodbine. The day's feature, the Canadian International, features Illinois-bred THE PIZZA MAN, winner of the local prep, the Northern Dancer (GI - CAN). AL'S GAL, second in both the Modesty (GIII) and the Beverly D (GI) at Arlington this summer, also makes an appearance in the E. P. Taylor Stakes (GI) for fillies and mares.
In addition to this preview, stay tuned to our Twitter feed for live coverage from Woodbine all weekend long.
Selections for the Canadian International, the E. P. Taylor, and the Nearctic are made for turf only. All purses are denoted in Canadian funds.
Race 4: Ontario Fashion Stakes (GIII - CAN), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, six furlongs on the Tapeta, post time 2:42pm EDT
The Ontario Fashion Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares ages three and up, will be run for the 37th time this year. It has always been run at six furlongs over the main track at Woodbine. This put the race on dirt from its inception in 1979 through 2005, and then on the synthetic since 2006. It was a Grade III race in 1999, though it lost its grade the next year. It regained Grade III status in 2012, which it has retained since.
CACTUS KRIS wins the 2015 Ontario Fashion Stakes. She seeks to repeat this year.
Several fillies and mares have won the Ontario Fashion on the way to winning Sovereign Awards: La Voyageuse (1979-1980), Eternal Search (1981), Avowal (1982), Summer Mood (1985), Tribal Belle (2005), Financingavailable (2007), Indian Apple Is (2010), and Atlantic Hurricane (2011, she also won the race in 2012 though not a Sovereign that year). Ruling Angel, a Woodbine stakes namesake as well as the 1986 Sovereign Award winner for Canadian Horse of the Year, won the Ontario Fashion in the year following that award.
CACTUS KRIS won this race last year, and she looks well primed to win again. Though most of her form has come in extended sprints, she has a surprisingly good record going six furlongs: three wins, and never out of the money in five starts. Though that 2015 victory came over Woodbine's old polytrack course, her form at Presque Isle shows that she can bring her best on Tapeta, too. Though she was fifth in the Presque Isle Masters (GII) last out, she crossed the wire beaten less than two lengths. This field is a bit softer, and she had some trip trouble. In addition to the class drop, the pace also sets up nicely. With VEAISHA certain to send and the likes of SHE'S EXPLOSIVE, GREEN DOCTOR, and SOUTHERN RING all showing speed, she will get plenty to run at late.
RIVER MAID has found herself on the Tapeta this year. She was a good horse in the Ontario-bred ranks on polytrack last year, but has held her own in open company in 2016, including a second-place finish against boys last out. She has never finished out of the money in four starts going six panels, and has never been out of the trifecta on the Woodbine main. Though RIVER MAID has been off for a month and a half, she can fire off a freshening. And, she has the versatility to go right up front or sit off the pace.
Finally, SHE'S EXPLOSIVE is also in the right form. There is a lot of speed in this race, but her last-out allowance win suggests she can sit just off, and she also has the ability to fight on the front. Though the waters are deeper here, her second-place finish behind Lady Shipman in the Royal North (GIII) suggests class, and her speed is competitive. Though she has mainly run on turf this year, RIVER MAID's lone Tapeta start was promising: a second-place finish behind RIVER MAID in the Ballade Stakes, her first start in seven months.
#5 CACTUS KRIS (6/1)
#3 RIVER MAID (8/5)
#1 SHE'S EXPLOSIVE (2/1)
Longshot: #2 GREEN DOCTOR (12/1) would be an unlikely win candidate, but merits a look underneath. Her current connections claimed her for $10,000 four starts back, but she has caught fire since moving back into the John LeBlanc barn for these new owners. (LeBlanc trained her earlier in her career, for other owners, as recently as June of this year). The Tapeta is a question, as GREEN DOCTOR's best this year has come on turf, but her best form is in range of what she needs to hit the board.
Race 6: Nearctic Stakes (GII), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the turf, post time 3:48pm EDT
The Nearctic Stakes takes its name from Nearctic, the 1958 Canadian Horse of the Year. Owned by E. P. Taylor and trained by Pete McCann, this Ontario-bred ran in stakes company from age two through age four, winning 21 of his 47 career starts. As good as he was on the racetrack, Nearctic stood out even more in the breeding shed. He sired great racehorse and seminal sire Northern Dancer. The race run in Nearctic's honour has always been run at six furlongs. From its inception in 1973 through 1994, it was contested over dirt; since 1995, it has been run over the grass. It held a Grade III from 1985-1989, was re-graded in 1999 as a Grade II, and has held that ever since except for 2010-2013, when it held Grade I status.
Two Canadian Horses of the Year have won the Nearctic. 1988 Canadian Horse of the Year Play the King won it twice, in 1987 and 1988. In his next start after his second Nearctic victory, Play the King finished a close second behind Gulch in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee and 2004 Canadian Horse of the Year Soaring Free also won the Nearctic in 2003. Even better known as a miler than a sprinter, Soaring Free finished second in the Grade I Atto Mile (now the Woodbine Mile) in 2003, and won it in 2004.
PASSION FOR ACTION made a rather ambitious try in the Woodbine Mile last time out, but dials back to six furlongs and a more realistic class level here. He has solid six furlong form on both turf and synthetic. He likes to rally from off the pace, but not too far off -- he is a tactical sort who can fire into a slower pace or a faster one. And, PASSION FOR ACTION goes back to having regular rider Eurico Rosa da Silva in the irons. All of this adds up to PASSION FOR ACTION getting back on track...and with CONQUEST ENFORCER and FULL MAST in the field, he should be an excellent price to boot.
FULL MAST is another who cuts back from the Woodbine Mile to the Nearctic. Six furlongs is a question, but he has form in six and a half- and seven-furlong sprints both in France and the United States. He reliably stalks close in range of the pace, and has a known rapport with rider Joel Rosario. And, though he has been off the board in his two tries at Woodbine, both have been close fourth-place finishes. They are enough to suggest FULL MAST has no trouble handling the course.
STACKED DECK comes into the Nearctic second off the lay. That first race back was a six-furlong win over the Tapeta, but he also has a money finish in his only try going six on the grass. He does his best on the front end -- but even though there are several in this field who may send, he is likely to take the bull by the horns if this race becomes a game of chicken on the front end. The works suggest STACKED DECK is sharp and ready, and if anyone takes this race gate to wire, it's STACKED DECK.
A word about CONQUEST ENFORCER. He has been a buzz horse since his debut, and continues to be. He is the morning line second choice, but it would be no surprise to see him go off the shortest price. His best could win this. But, as a three-year-old who was defeated as the favourite against older two starts back? Cover him defensively in multi-race tickets if you have strong opinions elsewhere, but he will be unlikely to provide value.
#5 PASSION FOR ACTION (6/1)
#2 FULL MAST (2/1)
#4 STACKED DECK (4/1)
Longshot: #1 DIVINE (10/1) is a mare facing the boys here, and looks to be the right class level to have a shot. She is a Group III horse across the Atlantic, but with this race not necessarily being the strongest Grade II, she should not be in over her head. DIVINE looked like she shipped well to Canada, and has some experience shipping intercontinentally before, having raced during this winter's Dubai carnival meet. And, she is a type so rarely seen stateside: a six-furlong turf specialist. In fourteen starts at the distance, she has four wins and another four money finishes. If DIVINE gets some speed to chase, she can get a piece at a price.
Race 8: E. P. Taylor Stakes (GI - CAN), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one quarter miles on the turf, post time 4:56pm EDT
The E. P. Taylor Stakes is a $500,000, Grade I event for filly and mare turf routers ages three and above. The race was first run in 1956 as the Nettie Handicap, but was renamed in 1981 after Edward Plunket Taylor. He started in the brewery business, with a brewery he inherited from his grandfather. After World War II he diversified his holdings into fields such as food, forestry, broadcasting, and advertising through a holding company he formed, Argus Corporation. When not wearing his business magnate hat, he participated in horse racing. In the 1930s he began racing thoroughbreds; he and his wife Winifred began breeding them in the 1950s. His breeding operation, Windfields Farm, is best known for breeding pivotal sire Northern Dancer. In addition to this race, the turf course at Woodbine is also named after E. P. Taylor. Taylor himself won this race twice in the days before it was named after him: with Victoria Regina (1961) and Northern Queen (1965). From a Chicago racing perspective, the winner of the 1992 E. P. Taylor Stakes is particularly notable: Hatoof, the 1994 Beverly D Stakes winner and onetime Arlington Park stakes namesake.
RAINHA DA BATERIA looks well spotted here. She won the Canadian Stakes, the local prep, over favoured stablemate Dacita. A closer in many of her races, she showed a new dimension last out, tracking off a runaway leader and succeeding from a forward spot. That also came not only over the Woodbine course, but also on a day with some rain -- useful, given Sunday's forecast. She also gets Julien Leparoux back in the irons. He rode her in the Canadian, as well as in her close third-place finish in the Diana (GI) two starts back. She is in the right form, she is fast, and she is tactical. The biggest question is the distance; RAINHA DA BATERIA has never gone past a mile and an eighth.
Given the likely short price on RAINHA DA BATERIA, we see a bit more value in one of the others: BANZARI.
The race does not appear to have a lot of speed, and BANZARI ran a strong race on the front end last out. She led them around, and let her out a notch whenever he needed. Should someone else (SWISS RANGE?) send it to the front, BANZARI also has the versatility to sit off the pace. She does have a bit of class to prove, as her last out was her first Group-level victory, a French GIII. But, she has proven herself a solid runner at a mile and a quarter, which makes her appealing to handle the class rise. She should also handle the ground: there is significant rain in the forecast, and BANZARI will love it.
BEST IN THE WORLD is a defensive use, but demands respect on her class. She was bred to be a good one -- she is a three-year-old full sister to Arc winner Found -- and goes out for the same classy globetrotting connections in trainer Aidan O'Brien and rider Ryan Moore. BEST IN THE WORLD shipped well to Woodbine; she was eye-catching in track work Friday morning. Her form also looks to be on the upswing. After some decisive defeats earlier in the year, she has picked up. BEST IN THE WORLD finished a close second in a GII at the Curragh last out at a mile and a quarter, and won a GIII two back at Cork. To note, both of those finishes came against older company, and she has faced older in her last four starts. She will benefit if there is a little pace to attack. But, the class and stamina are there, and Ryan Moore will get the best out of her.
#6 BANZARI (8/1)
#5 RAINHA DA BATERIA (4/1)
#3 BEST IN THE WORLD (3/1)
Longshot: #7 AL'S GAL (10/1) has blossomed going long on the grass this year for Mike Maker. Though most of her form has come from a closing spot, she has shown a new level of versatility in recent times, an ability to stalk close to a sluggish pace. There is a good chance AL'S GAL will have to show that style again. A mile and a quarter is no problem -- though she has not gone a flat ten panels, she has shown sharp form at a mile and three sixteenths and a mile and five sixteenths. The ability to ship is no problem either, as she has hit the board in her last five starts, at four different tracks. AL'S GAL also keeps crack turf rider Florent Geroux aboard. This race looks a class test for her -- but, so did the Beverly D (GI) two starts back, and she was up to it then. Particularly underneath, don't count this consistent mare out.
Race 9: Pattison Canadian International (GI - CAN), three-year-olds and up, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 5:40pm EDT
The Canadian International is one of three million-dollar races this summer at Woodbine -- the others being the Woodbine Mile (GI - CAN) and the Queen's Plate. The Canadian International began in 1938 as a 1 1/16 mile race on the main track, called the Long Branch Championship. Its name changed to the Canadian International Stakes the next year, and has carried some variation of that "Canadian International" moniker ever since. This year, as with every year since 2003, Pattison (an outdoor advertising company in Canada) holds the title sponsorship. Over the years it has been run at distances as short as its inaugural trip, and as long as a mile and five eighths. The race has been carded for the turf every year since 1958, and has been run at its current one and one half mile distance since 1987.
Its first winner, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee Bunty Lawless (1938), became a prominent sire and still has a stakes run in his honour at Woodbine. Quite possibly the most famous winner of this race is a bit better known for his work on the dirt: Secretariat (1973) concluded his racing career by winning the Canadian International, showing his brilliance in the homeland of trainer Lucien Laurin and his regular rider Ron Turcotte. From a more local perspective, one horse has won both the Canadian International and the Arlington Million: Sulamani (2004) had won Arlington's flagship race the previous year. However, that is not the only link between the Chicago circuit and this race. In 2007, Arlington-based Cloudy's Knight, under the care of local mainstay Frank Kirby, won the Canadian International.
Secretariat concludes his career with a commanding victory in the 1973 Canadian International.
Let's start by getting one thing out of the way. Chicago favourite THE PIZZA MAN comes in here after winning the local prep, the Northern Dancer. Though the Northern Dancer has a Grade I rating, it is decidedly the prep race -- and the waters get far, far deeper here. Could THE PIZZA MAN hit the board with his best? Sure, he makes sense for lower rungs of intra-race exotics, but that is about it.
In recent years, shippers have ruled the Canadian International. One has to dig back to Champs Elysees in 2009 to find a horse whose last start before the Canadian International came in North America. This year, given the class and form of the shippers, expect that trend to continue.
PROTECTIONIST won the Melbourne Cup in 2014 for trainer Andreas Wohler, and owners Australian Bloodstock (the same folks who brought American St. Leger winners Jakkalberry and Dandino to Arlington) decided to leave him there with trainer Kris Lees. That went poorly. However, a return to Germany and to Wohler's barn has worked wonders: he has won all three starts this year. Though PROTECTIONIST's signature victory came at two miles, he has been effective at a mile and a half; his last two victories in Germany have come at that distance, and won once at the distance earlier in his career as well. He typically rallies from off the pace, but is tactical enough to be forward. He shipped well to Woodbine; PROTECTIONIST looks as strong as one would hope to see a top-class horse look. And, though this will be a class test compared to his recent foes in Germany, he has beaten them comfortably enough to think Wohlers has him back in world-class form.
Next, we get to two folks who have been in the winners' circle in the last two editions of the Canadian International: jockey Ryan Moore and trainer Sir Michael Stoute. Though they have combined on the last two winners (Cannock Chase and Hillstar), this year they are separated -- but both on live horses.
IDAHO, first. IDAHO, a full brother to 2015 Secretariat Stakes (GI) winner Highland Reel, comes out for Moore and trainer Aidan O'Brien. O'Brien knows how to place a globetrotting horse, and has won the Canadian International twice already. IDAHO is a three-year-old facing elders for the first time, which is a significant question. He also comes off a dud in the St. Leger (GI - ENG) last out. But, here, he turns back to a mile and a half, and he adds Lasix. He reverts to having Moore in the saddle; last time Moore rode, they finished second half a length behind Harzand in the Irish Derby (GI - IRE). And, the rain should not bother IDAHO too much: though both of his wins have come over good ground, he has finished in the money against proper Grade I horses over yielding and even soft ground. As long as IDAHO gets something to run at, he will be tough to hold back late.
DARTMOUTH, Sir Michael Stoute's entry, does (unfortunately) lose Ryan Moore to IDAHO. But, he gets a plenty capable rider in William Buick, and the four-year-old Dubawi colt's class shines. He also has some versatility; his usual midpack rally is a bit more expected with the likes of WORLD APPROVAL and THE PIZZA MAN here, but he can send if necessary. DARTMOUTH beat Highland Reel in the Hardwicke Stakes (GII - ENG) at Royal Ascot, going this same distance over soft ground. Though Highland Reel turned the tables on him next out in the King George, he still finished a creditable third. DARTMOUTH likes a mile and a half, with three wins in six tries at the distance, and can handle ground of any sort. Finally, he adds Lasix for the first time. All in all, Sir Michael Stoute comes in with another credible candidate in Dartmouth.
#9 PROTECTIONIST (3/1)
#3 IDAHO (5/2)
#5 DARTMOUTH (7/2)
Longshot: #1 DANISH DYNAFORMER (20/1) tries the Canadian International again, another year older and stronger than he was when he finished seventh last year. He is tactical enough to sit relatively close to the pace, and got a deliberate jockey change to Joel Rosario for this time out. He is proven over the mile and a half course at Woodbine, as well. This consistent horse has not quite proven he is in the same class as his foes yet, but DANISH DYNAFORMER always tries. His credible races in his last three starts combined with the long odds and the rider change make him worth the gamble for anyone who needs a price for exotics, or seeks to stray from the shippers.