By Gene Kershner
TORONTO -- This weekend a critical “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup (BC) Challenge race will be run north of the border at Woodbine Racetrack, where the 74th running of the $1.5 million Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International will guarantee a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. A record 16-horse field will go to post on Sunday afternoon (post time 5:42 p.m.) in Canada’s richest race.
NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman (left) served as the guest draw master at Thursday’s post position draw held in the trackside pavilion at Woodbine Racetrack. An annual attendee of the Kentucky Derby, Rodman was excited to be part of the racing crowd that drew a full house to see the former NBA champion.
In addition to the International, Woodbine’s Sunday card includes two other Grade 1 races. The $1 million E.P. Taylor, a one mile and a quarter race for 3-year old fillies and mares and the $500,0000 Nearctic, for 3-year olds and upward over six furlongs round out the graded stakes on the card.
The International field is super amped with the top three finishers from last year (Joshua Tree, Mores Wells and Redwood) and three highly-regarded Europeans in Treasure Beach, Quest For Peace and Arctic Cosmos. Treasure Beach, the winner of the G1 Secretariat on Arlington Million Day, finished a well-beaten 14th in the Arc two weeks ago at Longchamp.
In addition to the previously mentioned Euros, horses shipped in from overseas include Bronze Cannon, Mikhail Glinka, and the lone filly in the field, Sarah Lynx. The last filly to win the International was Infamy in 1988. All horses in the field will carry 126 pounds, except the 3-year olds (Celtic Conviction, Quest For Peace and Treasure Beach) who will carry 119 and the filly who will carry 123.
I spoke with the connections of two interesting long shots before Thursday’s draw. Mike dePaulo will saddle Laureate Conductor (30-1) for Bear Stables. The trainer of the winner of two of the three Canadian Triple Crown races with Pender Harbour, will try and pull the big upset on Sunday with a horse who his connections claimed for $62K back in June.
“He’s a half mile horse, he can carry the distance,” said dePaulo. “There’s not a lot opportunities to run on grass and the boss wanted to give it a try, so here we are. He had a real good last race and the soft ground shouldn’t really bother him.” He landed Luis Contreras, the winner of all three Canadian Triple Crown horses to ride for him in the International. “Contreras has rode him once and won on him. Luis knows both the horse and the course.” He enters third off the layoff, crazier things have happened and with the big field it’s unwise to discount a horse on the improve.
A horse whose running line in the Grade 2 Sky Classic jumps right out at you is Kara’s Orientation. At the second call he was 17 lengths in front of his nearest competitor and still won the mile and a quarter effort on the home track by 2-1/4 lengths. I cornered young trainer Steven Chircop to discuss his speed horse’s chances going an additional quarter mile and his jockey decision.
“He’s never run a mile and a half, but it’s in his pedigree. Nine out of 10 times if you can get a mile and a quarter you can get a mile and a half,” exclaimed Chircop. “There are two key things we have going for us, high cruising speed and lots of stamina.” Chircop was very confident in his horse’s chances and was not deterred at all when he drew an outside 14 post.
I mentioned to him that watching replays of his horse that he reminded me of former United Nations champion and the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Presious Passion, a horse that had no aversion to grabbing an early lead. “Kara’s been compared to him a lot. When you have a speed horse you have the option to control the race. It depends on the turf course, but if he gets far enough ahead, they may not catch him!”
Chircop was surprised when he discovered his usual jockey; Emile Ramsammy took off Kara’s Orientation to ride Celtic Conviction, another 30-1 horse, so he went to his black book. “My first thought was to find out who rode Presious Passion, and when I contacted Elvis Trujillo, he already was booked to Todd Pletcher on Sunday. Word quickly spread that I was looking for a top jockey and Garret Gomez and Joel Rosario’s agents both contacted me. I decided on Rosario, he has soft hands and won three Grade 1’s last weekend at Santa Anita.”
When looking to handicap the race, you can never go wrong boxing the top Euros and throwing in a local horse or two. I like Quest For Peace (8-1) who won at Ascot last out and is unbeaten in two tries at the distance and gets a few pound weight break as a 3-year old to win the International. You can never go wrong with a Roger Attfield horse in your mix at Woodbine, and Simmard (15-1), a neck loser in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer last month, looks the part.
Underneath in the exotics, we’ll look to use Arctic Cosmos (6-1), Redwood (4-1) and our longshot plays are Kara’s Orientation and Laureate Conductor, featured above.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Quest For Peace; 2 – Simmard; 3 – Arctic Cosmos 4 – Redwood