2017 Canadian International Day Stakes Preview

For the second year in a row, Picks and Ponderings is on site at the Canadian International, so make sure to follow us on Twitter for live news and notes from Woodbine!

Sunday’s card at Woodbine features four graded stakes races, anchored by the Grade 1, mile and a half Canadian International, one of Woodbine’s three flagship races.  Put the mphasis on the flag part, as ERUPT’s victory last year means a banner of his Flaxman Holdings silks flies alongside ones representing the Queen’s Plate winner HOLY HELENA (a competitor in Sunday’s Ontario Derby) and Woodbine Mile winner World Approval.

The card also features another Grade 1 race, the E. P. Taylor, for older turf route fillies and mares going a mile and a quarter.  Turf sprinters get their due in the six-furlong Nearctic (G2).  Finally, one Tapeta-track race completes the stakes portion of the card: the Ontario Derby (G3), which features sophomores going a mile and an eighth on the main.

These races, and all races at Woodbine, are streamed live on the Woodbine website, as well as on the Horse Races Now mobile app.

Selections for the Canadian International, E. P. Taylor, and Nearctic are made for turf only.  The preview of the E. P. Taylor is published jointly with the ThoroFan Handicappers Corner.

Sunday, October 15 – Woodbine Racetrack

Race 6: Nearctic Stakes (G2), 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 3 from 1985-1989, was re-graded in 1999 as a Grade 2, and has held that ever since except for  2010-2013, when it held Grade 1 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 1 Atto Mile (now the Woodbine Mile) in 2003, and won it in 2004.

The Nearctic drew a field of eight to contend for a $250,000 purse.  This space is taking a stand against the morning line favourite, lone international shipper COTAI GLORY.  He does come in here the class of the field, with form lines that feature world-class sprinters like Lady Aurelia, Profitable, and Marsha, but a six-furlong, one-turn sprint is a different game than the five-furlong straight sprints he is used to.  With enough six-furlong mavens in this field, COTAI GLORY will be underlaid, and it will pay to be a bit contrarian.

WHITE FLAG gets a class test here, as it is his first start against older stakes horses, but he looks to be coming into his form and his specialty at the right time.  The lightly-raced three-year-old broke his maiden three back — his fourth career start, and his first six-furlong turf try.  That came against older, as did his next-out N1X score at seven furlongs over the Belmont sod.  WHITE FLAG went on the shelf for Saratoga, but returned to beat three-year-olds going six on the grass at Belmont in the Allied Forces Stakes.  In all three of those races, he rallied from off the pace to score — a perfect style for this race, with DOWSE’S BEACH, CONQUEST TSUNAMI, YORKTON, and FIELD OF COURAGE all so frequently keen to go.  With Joel Rosario, his rider in his last two starts, shipping down again, WHITE FLAG looks ready to defy his name and fight to victory once again.

IKERRIN ROAD might be a bit better on the Tapeta than on the turf, but the key word is might.  He does have turf form just solid enough to think he can bring his best here, in this sprint spot.  He held his own going a mile on the Woodbine grass earlier this meet, then really hit his stride in his last two starts when he switched to elongated sprints on the Tapeta.  Now, he cuts back just a bit further, to six furlongs, and goes back to the grass.  IKERRIN ROAD has not gone six on the grass since his European days, but did rack up a win and a third in three starts at the trip.  His running style should suit as well — he is dependably able to settle off the pace, but does not leave himself too much to do.

Should one of the speed brigade win, DOWSE’S BEACH looks the most likely.  He was beaten in a restricted stakes at Saratoga last out, but that was only a five-and-a-half-furlong race.  That’s not DOWSE’S BEACH’s best game — longer turf sprints, six and seven furlongs, are.  He stretches back out to this six-furlong trip here, and returns to a Woodbine course of which he finished a close second in the Play the King (G2) two starts back.  Whether he can rate from the rail is a question, but he does have some good enough races from just off the pace (including a nose defeat last fall going six furlongs on the Belmont grass) to suggest DOWSE’S BEACH to be the best combination of ratable and fast enough among the speed contingent.


#2 WHITE FLAG (7/2)


#1 DOWSE’S BEACH (5/2)

Longshot:  #3 CIRCLE OF FRIENDS (20/1) tries the grass for the first time, having raced all of his seven starts over Tapeta.  But, Tapeta form translates to grass a bit more reliably than other synthetic surfaces.  The distance is also a positive.  CIRCLE OF FRIENDS has won both his tries over a six furlong trip, and should appreciate the cut back after a pair of off-the-board tries going six and a half against stakes horses.  His running style also suits; with as much speed as has drawn into the field, CIRCLE OF FRIENDS should get enough pace in front of him to make his run.  He does have tables to turn on IKERRIN ROAD and YORKTON off those last few, and he will have to run his best race to beat the better horses in here.  But, there’s enough chance of improvement to give CIRCLE OF FRIENDS a shot, as the longest shot on the board.

Race 7: Ontario Derby (G3), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the Tapeta, post time 4:21pm EDT

The Ontario Derby began its life as the Colonel R. S. MacLaughlin Handicap, and carried MacLaughlin’s name from its inauguration in 1972 until it took the Ontario Derby name in 2003.  It began as a nine and a half-furlong race for three-year-olds over the main track.  It was shortened to its current nine-furlong distance in 1992.  It has oscillated between being ungraded and being a  Grade 3 event; it has held a G3 designation in 2000-2003, 2006, and from 2012 to the present day.  Quite fittingly, as the Northern Dancer Turf will be run on the same day as the Ontario Derby, the race’s first winner Nice Dancer (1972) was a son of Northern Dancer.  He won this race on the way to winning the Breeders’, and was named Canada’s champion three-year-old.  There have been a few ties between the Ontario Derby and solid Chicago-area stakes performances over the years.  Frost King (1981) won the National Jockey Club Handicap at Sportsman’s the next year.  At age four, Stephanotis (1996) finished third in the Washington Park Handicap (G2).  The 2015 Ontario Derby winner, Lucky Lindy, capped off his three-year-old season with a trip to Chicago and a confident victory in the 2015 Hawthorne Derby (G3).

The Ontario Derby drew nine runners to compete for a $125,000 purse.  Seven are colts or geldings, but the road to Ontario Derby this year leads past the pair of fillies, GRIZZEL and HOLY HELENA.  This space has a slight preference for the one with more open-company class, GRIZZEL.  Not only did she beat her own age group earlier in the year with her win in the Selene (G3) earlier this year, but she also finished a perfectly credible fourth against older mares in the Canadian Stakes (G2) last out.  She is perfect in a pair of starts on the Tapeta at Woodbine, and both her pedigree and her Canadian Stakes performance suggest she has the stamina to get nine panels.  GRIZZEL’s running style should suit, as well; without a ton of speed in this race, it is a strong point that she can sit close to the pace and make a timely move.

HOLY HELENA found the Alabama (G1) last out over her head, but her two starts at Woodbine against Canadian-breds have been dazzling.  She scored comfortably in the Woodbine Oaks at the same mile and an eighth distance as today’s Ontario Derby, then stretched out to a mile and a quarter to beat the boys in the Queen’s Plate.  She has a bit of form against open company earlier in her career, as she racked up a second and a win in the NYRA maiden special weight ranks back in the spring.  She also keeps rider Luis Contreras aboard; Contreras has been a star this meet, and guided HOLY HELENA to her pair of Woodbine wins earlier this year.  It would not be a surprise to see that tally click up to three on Sunday.  But, between GRIZZEL’s open stakes class edge and the fact that GRIZZEL typically sits just a bit closer to the pace than HOLY HELENA, this space prefers GRIZZEL.

COOL CATOMINE returns to the Tapeta for the first time since his maiden-breaker.  Though he faded badly in the mile and a half Breeders’ Stakes last out, he has reason to improve.  He dials back to a mile and an eighth here, a trip he should be able to see out based on his performance in the 1 3/16 mile Prince of Wales.  He also goes back to a surface he likes.  His post draw and early speed are positives, too.  In a race without a lot of pace, COOL CATOMINE looks the most likely to send to the front end, and that outside draw should give him a clean path to that placing.  He will have to run his best to hold off the fillies in the lane, but that tactical edge may help him do it.


#2 GRIZZEL (3/1)

#8 HOLY HELENA (2/1)

#9 COOL CATOMINE (12/1) 

Longshot:  #5 UNDULATED (15/1) was cracking good at two, between an eye-popping maiden score at Laurel and a from-the-clouds score in the Swynford Stakes at Woodbine last fall.  But, the son of Curlin has not yet found his footing this year.  At a price, there are reasons to think he can make better account of himself.  UNDULATED moved to the Mark Casse barn for his last start, and even though he faltered, he started poorly and perhaps found six furlongs too short for him at this point in his career, anyway.  That was in July.  He got a little time off, he has a solid series of five-furlong works leading up to this start, and he tries a mile and an eighth for the first time.  Casse does not tend to place horses in graded stakes frivolously, suggesting he still sees potential in UNDULATED, just as this space does.  And, the change to top-notch rider (and Casse regular) Patrick Husbands gives him even more upside.

Race 9: E. P. Taylor Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one quarter miles on the turf, post time 5:28pm EDT

The E. P. Taylor Stakes is a $500,000, Grade 1 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.  Last year’s winner Al’s Gal, broke through at the top level in the E. P. Taylor after second-place finishes in the Modesty Handicap (G1) and the Beverly D (G1) at Arlington.

After a pair of second-place finishes in graded stakes at Arlington, Al’s Gal gets a close finish in the 2016 E. P. Taylor.

Nine filles and mares passed the entry box to compete for the $500,000 purse, though SASSY LITTLE LILA is expected to scratch.  The eight remaining form a competitive rendition of the E. P. Taylor, in which local prep winner QUIDURA gets the nod by a nose.  She handled the Woodbine course well, and even if the going gets softer than that (a possibility with the weather), her score in a soft Valley View (G3) at Keeneland last year suggests she can handle some cut in the ground.  She has the pedigree to adore a mile and a quarter, being by Dubawi with stamina-rich German blood under.  QUIDURA did get one try at the distance earlier this year, finishing second in the New York Stakes (G2) at Belmont earlier this year.  But, that day, frontrunning Hawksmoor had a tactical edge.  Here, with the anticipated scratch of SASSY LITTLE LILA?  Either QUIDURA sits right off the overmatched PUCA (and possibly KITTEN’S ROAR, who has some back form up front thought has more recently come from a bit off of things), or she herself becomes the one with the pace advantage.  In both cases, she should be well set to break through at the top level.

Trainer Chad Brown sends a pair up here, RAINHA DA BATERIA and FOURSTAR CROOK.  RAINHA DA BATERIA may get the greater attention of the pair, with years of graded stakes experience and a pair of victories at Woodbine.  But?  It speaks volumes that Javier Castellano — who rode RAINHA DA BATERIA to her Dance Smartly (G2) win earlier this meet — instead takes the call on FOURSTAR CROOK here.  The daughter of Freud gets a class test here, as most of her stakes experience has come against New York-breds.  But, her best races make her a factor here.  Her one graded outing was a good one: a win in the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3) at Parx, where she beat sharp next-out Yellow Ribbon (G2) winner Cambodia by daylight.  Though FOURSTAR CROOK is an off-pace type, she does not need to rally from the clouds, and she does not need a fiery pace in front of her to show her late-running flair.

NEZWAAH was seventh in this race last year, but she was just a three-year-old at the time.  Given a long winter break after that, she returned in the spring to win easily in handicap company first off the bench, and then left RAIN GODDESS and everyone else watching her tail in the Group 1 Pretty Polly at Newmarket.  That race was the same distance as today, a mile and a quarter.  She next stretched out to a mile and a half for the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), and though she was beaten five and three quarters lengths, she was only three quarters of a length out of second.  Five lengths behind genuine freak and eventual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Enable is not a bad place to be.  Though the ship is the question, she has looked good in the morning, and demands defensive use as the class of the field.


#3 QUIDURA (3/1)


#6 NEZWAAH (5/2)

Longshot:  Trainer Mike Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey sprung the upset in last year’s E. P. Taylor with Al’s Gal.  This year, they have another live upset candidate in #1 KITTEN’S ROAR (12/1).  The daughter of Kitten’s Joy steps back up in class after her easy win in the Ramsey Farm Stakes (named after her owners’ operation) at Kentucky Downs last out.  That was a class break for her; she has been holding her own in graded stakes company all spring and summer, including a third-place finish in the New York Stakes (G2) behind Hawksmoor and QUIDURA.  KITTEN’S ROAR also finished less that two lengths beaten in each of the two Grade 1 races she has tried, the Jenny Wiley and the Beverly D.  She has tactical versatility, able to contest the pace or rally from further back, a positive given that this race has a decent amount of possible speed, but no one-way speed with SASSY LITTLE LILA expected to scratch.  One of her best races puts her right in the picture, and she has been consistent enough and enough different tracks to suggest she will bring her best north of the border.

Race 10: Pattison Canadian International Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 6:10pm EDT

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.  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.  This year’s edition offers a $800,000 purse.

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.

Frank Kirby trainee Cloudy’s Knight scores one for the Chicago horses, winning the Canadian International ten years ago.

There were high hopes for POSTULATION at the beginning of his career, as he started overseas with Juddmonte and then they brought him stateside for the 2015 Belmont Derby.  He finished sixth that day, was off for over a year (during which he was privately purchased), and returned last year in the barn of Eddie Graham.  It took POSTULATION a while to get back into stride, but he has emerged this summer as a strong, classy stayer.  A win in the Cape Henlopen Stakes at Delaware got him off the mark for his new connections, and then he won the American St. Leger (G3) at Arlington.  He just missed last out in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) against OSCAR NOMINATED, who he will face again here.  But, Arlington form tends to transfer beautifully to Woodbine, a point in POSTULATION’s favour.  He tries the top level for the first time, he is in the right form to try it, and his combination of tactical speed and turn of foot should make him a tough contender.

Trainer Graham Motion sends a pair out among the field of ten.  One of them is last year’s winner, ERUPT.  However, it’s his other who carries better form going into this year’s race.  MESSI was loaded down the lane of the Northern Dancer (G1), the local course and distance prep for the Canadian International, but ran into some trip trouble.  Even so, he still found himself beaten less than a length.  In that start he came from a handful of lengths off the pace, though his back form lines suggest he can sit closer should the pace scenario end up requiring it.  MESSI’s form at Woodbine has been good, between that and his victory in the mile and a quarter Sky Classic Stakes (G2) last year.  And, MESSI keeps Jose Ortiz in the irons, who has been aboard the last two starts.

Rider Julien Leparoux has been unstoppable at Keeneland, yet he steps away from Lexington for a day to ride at Woodbine instead.  Leparoux takes the call on OSCAR NOMINATED in the Canadian International, and this is who it appears he is really here to ride.  Leparoux rode him to victory last out at Kentucky Downs, and returns to the same mile and a half distance here.  The son of Kitten’s Joy has acquitted himself well in both career tries at the distance, as his other try resulted in a second-place finish behind stablemate Bigger Picture in the Connally Turf Cup (G3) at Sam Houston earlier this year.  His form has been a bit on-and-off lately — but if OSCAR NOMINATED follows his big Kentucky Downs effort with a similarly “on” race, he will find his way into the picture at a fair, square price.



#8 MESSI (8/1)


Longshot:  #3 ENTERPRISING (20/1) looked like he was going in over his head two back in the Arlington Million — but surprised, finishing fourth beaten only three quarters of a length by winner Beach Patrol.  Though he was flat in the Kentucky Turf Cup next out, there are a few reasons to think he can turn it around at Woodbine.  ENTERPRISING ran his big race at Arlington, and form from there tends to carry well to the sweeping Woodbine course.  And, ENTERPRISING gets the services of Rafael Hernandez: an excellent turf rider in general, and an excellent Woodbine rider specifically.  ENTERPRISING will have to run back to his absolute best to be a presence here — but as one of the longest shots on the board, the odds will be enough for players who want to wager that he will.


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