JC / Railbird


Canadian International Live

12:30 PM: Hello from Woodbine!

Because I’m here, and because I’ll be running around today to catch the Win and You’re In action for the Breeders’ Cup (follow @breederscup or like the Breeders’ Cup), I thought I’d try something I haven’t done in a while — live blogging. I might be rusty — we’ll see how it goes this afternoon.

Anyway, the post times for today’s Challenge stakes are 3:04 PM ET (Nearctic, Win and You’re In the Turf Sprint), 4:38 PM ET (E.P. Taylor, Win and You’re In the Filly and Mare Turf), and 5:44 PM ET (the main attraction, the Canadian International, Win and You’re In the Turf). For even more on-track International coverage, follow @woodbineracing or @tripledeadheat.

12:45 PM: Despite rain that fell until about 11:00 this morning, only Al Khali has scratched from the International. Trainer Bill Mott cited the altered turf condition — it’s currently listed as GOOD — as the reason. There are no scratches in the Nearctic or the Taylor.

1:18 PM: About the turf … Ernie Munick talked to track superintendent Irwin Driedger on Friday about the grass. One part of the conversation that didn’t make it into Munick’s very informative video was about the backstretch rise, which apparently sounds more daunting than it actually is. According to Driedger, a retired Sovereign Award-winning jockey who knows the Woodbine grass on and off a horse, the ground slopes up about 3 1/2-4 feet over five eighths starting in the chute, but the rise is so gentle neither horse nor rider notice. Also of interest — the backstretch is always a little softer than the stretch. Something to keep in mind today.

1:30 PM: There are two things I always enjoy about visiting new tracks: Checking out the food (Woodbine’s is super), and the photos, posters, and ephemera that decorate the place (especially in the out-of-the way corners), like this old DRF poster hanging in the press box:

Or this one, honoring Deputy Minister, 1981 Horse of the Year:

2:06 PM: A horseplayer’s lament, overheard in the press box: “When you hit the ALL button, the chalk always wins.” The G3 Durham Cup, coming up at 2:31 PM, is the start of the guaranteed $100K Pick 4. I’m looking at a fresh Vertiformer for a little upset.

2:33 PM: Slow fractions, lone speed. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to stand against the favorite. Delegation, 6-5, wins the Durham … and I decide now is a good time to head toward the paddock for the Nearctic Stakes.

3:50 PM: John Velazquez comes to Canada to get beat by Ramon Dominguez. Next Question was 16-1, not the longest shot in the Nearctic field (that was Super Chunky at 33-1), but not well regarded coming off a win in a turf AOC, in which he was not claimed, at Belmont. The Nearctic horses were running in lane two of the turf course; the temporary rail has already been taken down for the E.P. Taylor and International, which will be run over pristine lane one.

4:05 PM: The Nearctic replay (chart).

4:10 PM: Back down to the paddock. Because one of her French connections ran a circuit around the International eve cocktail party, French flag streaming behind, I may take a flyer on Pagera. She’s 12-1, 26 minutes to post.

5:00 PM: Hey, second! That wild stab did better than most of my handicapped picks lately. (Oh, Fantasy ‘Capping! My $0 standing haunts me.) It doesn’t sound as if E.P. Taylor winner Siyouma will be taking her guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Trainer Francois Doumen said after the race that she would be shipped home, and then might start next in Japan.

5:20 PM: The E.P. Taylor replay (chart).

Siyouma in the Woodbine winner’s circle.

5:22 PM: And back to the paddock for the Canadian International …

They’re off in the Canadian International!

7:15 PM: Joshua Tree is the third horse to win the Canadian International twice. Frankie Dettori is the second jockey to win the Canadian International three times. History was satisfied. The 5-year-old horse led from the start and quickened when asked — more than Dettori expected, which made the rider a little nervous, he said in the press box scrum after the race. “He gave me too much too quick.” And when the other horses mounted their challenges in the final furlongs? “I could hear the wind … I know what it’s like. I was the hare and the hounds were coming.” But wire-to-wire was the plan, and as they came down the stretch, “I knew I had plenty of horse left.”

(I would really like to quote what Dettori said in the elevator, as he made his way from the track to the press box, and his adrenaline was still running, and he felt free to be a little giddy and profane as he described the race to Sandy Hawley. But I didn’t capture his exact words, and I don’t want to paraphrase. There’s truly nothing like the excitement of a top-class race, and to see someone else feeling that much joy after winning one is wonderful.)

Joshua Tree parading in his International garland.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf is a day less than three weeks from the International, and the connections aren’t sure whether Joshua Tree will start at Santa Anita. It’s one of three races being considered for the horse. (The other two are the Japan Cup and the Hong Kong Cup, and the Japan Cup seems the likeliest. 10/15/12 Update: He’ll go to the Japan Cup next, it was announced.)

7:27 PM: The Canadian International replay (chart).

7:35 PM: Faces of the day:

The lad who led Dandino to the Woodbine paddock watches as the 25-1 shot finishes second. He’d been shouting, “C’mon, Jim.” And then he went silent.

Dettori is mobbed by autograph-seeking fans as he makes his way from the track. “Help, help,” he jokingly called as he shook hands and signed programs.

Getting to Know Woodbine

Few trips to new cities begin better than by getting into a cab and saying, “Take me to the racetrack.” Except those in which the cabbie knows exactly where you want to go. Barely five minutes in Toronto, and I had a great feeling about this weekend at Woodbine for Canadian International day.

More on Sunday about the International card. For now, a few photos:

Swimmer Summer Mortimer, a gold medal winner at the 2012 Paralympics and the guest drawmaster for the International, posing with her medal and the Canadian International trophy after the field was drawn on Thursday.

The guest drawmaster is a Woodbine tradition. Walls in the press box bar are decorated with photos of notables who took part in past years.

Prince Will I Am in his stall. He drew post five in the International, which is his second race following a 15 month layoff. “I am very excited abut him,” trainer Michelle Nihei told the Toronto Star.

Scalo and groom in the barn where all the European entrants are stabled. The Group 1 winner in Germany is making his third start at Woodbine in the International, in which he drew post four. In his most recent work, a bullet, he worked in blinkers. He’ll be first-time Blinkers On in the International.

Stars to Shine, a goofy charmer. She drew post one in the E.P. Taylor Stakes. The 5-year-old mare last won the G3 Ontario Matron Stakes in July.

Videographer Ernie Munick is also at Woodbine. Friday morning, he walked the turf course with track maintenance superintendent Irwin Driedger, a former Sovereign Award-winning jockey. The two talked about the condition of the grass (lush) and the peculiarities of the course.

A low-lying view down the turf course from the finish line.

And for a little lunch … Woodbine’s famed roast beef sandwich. Freshly sliced, served with gravy. As delicious as promised.

Firsts and Lasts in Ontario

In advance of a trip to Woodbine for next Sunday’s Pattison Canadian International Stakes, I’ve been reading up on the race’s history. It’s drawn globetrotters such as Dahlia; it’s been part of championship seasons like that of 1997 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Chief Bearhart.

It was also Secretariat’s last start. That the Triple Crown winner ended his 21-race career at Woodbine, in Toronto, Ontario was a nice nod to racing history and the original Big Red — Man o’ War’s 21st, and final, start was a 1920 match race at Kenilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario, in which he defeated Sir Barton, the first-ever Triple Crown winner, by 17 lengths (there’s film).

According to the Thoroughbred Record’s account of the star’s appearance:

With a slightly different perspective, Secretariat’s arrival in Toronto six days before the Championship had overtones of the Threatre of the Absurd, with pockets of newsmen, photographers and television cameramen paying court to this four-footed millionaire from the sky. With Secretariat safely billeted in Barn 8 at Woodbine, looking out at the newly sodded surrounds, visitors were kept at bay by a nine-man security guard and signs which said: “Admittance by Appointment Only.” A telephone was installed ten feet from Secretariat’s stall … so that his handlers could use the phone without leaving the colt unattended, one was told. But, noticing the intelligent glint in Secretariat’s eye, one wondered.

“He can do everything but talk,” quipped Mr. Laurin…. “He’s a real ham.”

That he was also a real race horse was evident from his morning gallops, expending as little energy as possible in his preparation, and seemingly floating over the grass, balanced like a dancer.

To please trainer Lucien Laurin, the grass on Woodbine’s Marshall turf course was cut from approximately 4 1/2 inches in height to two inches, and parts of the course were patched with new sod and rolled. (“The course has never been better than it is right now,” said Woodbine tub thumper Bruce Walker.) Secretariat was obviously at ease on the surface: He worked five furlongs in :57 3/5 on the grass three days before the race, and skipped over the firm turf to win the International by 6 1/2 lengths, beating 11 others for a purse that totaled $142,700, the largest then ever offered in Canada. His $92,755 share of the purse brought his single-season earnings to a record $860,404. No other horse had ever won so much in one year.

In 1974, Dahlia — who had her own earnings record, as the first of her sex to win more than $1 million — set a new course record, running the International in 2:40, a full second faster than The Axe II had in the 1963 edition. The win was significant for another reason — it made Dahlia a stakes winner in five countries. Running and winning stakes around the world is still an exceptional accomplishment; 38 years ago, though, a 4-year-old filly with a career record that included wins in the International (Canada), Irish Oaks (Ireland), King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (England), Man o’ War Stakes (United States), and the Prix Saint-Alary (France) was a truly remarkable filly indeed.

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This year’s Euro starters have begun to arrive for the Canadian International, as well as for the E.P. Taylor and Nearctic. Next Sunday’s races at Woodbine are the last three Breeders’ Cup Challenge races of 2012.


In 2005, the Euros swept the Breeders’ Cup Turf superfecta. Is there any doubt we could see the same this year? At Woodbine on Saturday, Group 2 winner Joshua Tree won the Grade 1 Canadian International by a head over Swedish staker winner Mores Wells. And that wasn’t all: “European-based horses swept the three Grade 1 races at Woodbine on Saturday.” Given how strong European turf form has been in 2010, I suppose it’s a good thing the Breeders’ Cup returns to dirt at Churchill Downs — otherwise the Americans might have been in for serious competition in main track races run over a synthetic surface, as well as the usual beating over grass. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic third-place finisher and two-time Champion Stakes winner Twice Over is one who won’t be challenging Zenyatta again because of the surface: “He won’t go to the Breeders’ Cup as the Prince [Khalid Abdullah] does not want to run him on dirt in America,” said trainer Henry Cecil on Saturday.

After →