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TORONTO, ON – There’s something about Woodbine that is a win-win for Desert Encounter.
“He seems to really enjoy travelling here,” said Ian Russell, travelling head lad for trainer David Simcock, who has accompanied Desert Encounter on his previous forays. “I think when he sees a plane, he comes alive because he’s looking for the next adventure.”
That affinity for Woodbine and the E.P. Taylor Turf Course will be put to the test again Saturday when Desert Encounter seeks to become the first runner to capture 3 consecutive runnings of the 1 1/2-mile Pattison Canadian International (G1), a $600,000 race for 3-year-olds and upward.
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The Canadian International was not held last year on a stakes schedule impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That leaves the Irish-bred gelding Desert Encounter, who is owned by Abdulla Al Mansoori and is based in England, as the two-time defending champion by virtue of his Canadian International victories in 2018 and 2019.
Joshua Tree, based in Ireland, is the only three-time winner of the Canadian International with successes in 2010, 2012, and 2013, interrupted by a second-place finish in 2011.
But, at age nine and winless in 15 races since his last appearance here, does Desert Encounter still have what it will take to defeat seven rivals, ranging from two to five years his juniors, in the prestigious event with the likes of Secretariat, All Along, Chief Bearhart, Singspiel, Youth, Snow Knight, Dahlia, and George Royal amongst its honour roll?
“At nine, there’s a lot of younger horses running against him; he’s got a bit of experience next to them,” said Russell. “For as much as he is older, he’s enjoying it, and he’s showing us the signs that he still wants to do it. I think watching him in his last run, when he was second at Windsor, he’s still got a zest for life.”
Teona, the 3-year-old filly who defeated Desert Encounter that day, has since seen her stock soar with an upset win in last weekend’s Group 1 Qatar Prix Vermeille at Longchamp.
That Windsor race, at 1 7/16 miles on turf, came on August 28. His previous Canadian International successes, when the race was run in mid-October, also followed good efforts at Newbury three weeks earlier.
“We couldn’t wholly keep the same pattern, but generally everything is just the same,” said Russell.
One change does come as rider Danny Tudhope will pilot Desert Encounter, whose previous Canadian International scores came under Andrea Atzeni. Tudhope will be making his Canadian debut but boasts Grade 1 successes in the U.S. courtesy of Mondialiste in the 2016 Arlington Million and Suedois in the 2017 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.
In addition to Desert Encounter, Simcock has been represented by a trio of 2014 stakes winners here in Trade Storm (Grade 1 Woodbine Mile), Sheikhzayedroad (Grade 1 Northern Dancer), and Caspar Netscher (Grade 2 Nearctic). Sheikhzayedroad returned the following year to finish third in the Canadian International.
Walton Street, bred and trained in England and representing the powerful Godolphin, is at seven the closest in age to Desert Encounter and will be making his first trip across the pond for conditioner Charlie Appleby.
“I think the older he’s getting, the wiser he’s getting,” said travelling head lad Chris Durham. “Charlie always wanted to come here with him. He’s happy with him.”
In his most recent outing, the homebred finished third after leading through most of the about 1 ½-miles of good turf in the Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin.
That August 8 race was Walton Street’s first since a Dubai campaign that kicked off with back-to-back scores and concluded with an admirable fourth-place finish in a very tough renewal of the Grade 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic.
“He ran really well in Germany, for his first time out,” said Durham, noting that the runner-up there, Torquator Tasso, has returned to win the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden. “His form looks good.”
Walton Street will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who will be making his first appearance here since winning aboard Joshua Tree in 2012. That was Dettori’s third victory in the Canadian International, following Sulmani in the 2004 edition and Mutafaweq in 2000.
Appleby is taking his first crack at the Canadian International but has won Grade 1 races here with Old Persian (2019 Northern Dancer) and La Pelosa (2018 Natalma).
Invading from south of the border for the Canadian International will be Corelli, Fantasioso, and Bluegrass Parkway.
Corelli, who began his career in England for owner/breeder George Strawbridge, moved to New York and trainer Jonathan Thomas and finished third in Monmouth Park’s Grade 1 United Nations over 1 3/8 miles of firm turf in his best performance. This year, the six-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding is 2-for-4 including his first graded stakes score here last time out in the Singspiel.
Shipping up from his Saratoga base for trainer Jonathan Thomas, Corelli rallied strongly in the Grade 3 Singspiel over 1 ¼-miles of the E.P. Taylor course for a going-away 1 ¾-length score under a heads-up ride by the returning Kazushi Kimura.
“He exited that race in good order, and had two nice works out of it,” said Thomas.
“We’re really pleased with him,” he added, while acknowledging that Saturday’s 1 ½-mile distance is “a little question mark.”
In his only North American try at the distance, Corelli ended a well-beaten fifth over soft going in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer.
“He ran a very good race going a mile and three, and then he ran a mile and a half on bottomless ground,” said Thomas. “It’s a little bit of a learning curve for us. He seems to be a mile and a quarter horse on the turf; those are rare distances. But he got over the track there beautifully, and he’s starting to relax nicely in his races and finish up, so we’re taking a shot.”
Corelli acquitted himself well when travelling 1 ½ miles and thereabouts in the English phase of his career, although not in group company, and will be looking to provide the U.S. a victory in this race won by Europeans in all but one of the last 10 renewals. The outlier was Bullards Alley, the Kentucky shipper who was a major upsetter in in the 2017 edition over a soggy turf course.
Fantasioso was scratched from last Saturday’s Calumet Turf Cup, a 1 ½ mile turf race at Kentucky Downs, and has readjusted his sights while seeking his first win since leaving his native Argentina.
A proven marathoner, the six-year-old horse’s best effort in this hemisphere was a second-place finish in the Group 2 Belmont Gold Cup over two miles of yielding going.
Ignacio Correas IV trains Fantasioso and is a co-owner along with Jeffrey Bloom’s Bloom Racing Stable LLC.
Bluegrass Parkway, supplemented to the Canadian International at a cost of $12,000, which includes the regular entry fee, captured the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup over 1 ¼-miles of firm going at Ellis Park but also scratched from the main event.
A five-year-old gelding who was bred in Kentucky by Mike Ryan and is trained there by Mike Maker, Bluegrass Parkway was recording his first stakes win there.
Joel Rosario, coming off an astounding Kentucky Downs meeting, has the mount.
The local contingent for the Canadian International is comprised of English Conqueror, Belichick, and Primo Touch, the first, second and fifth finishers from the Singspiel.
English Conqueror, owned and bred by JWS Farms and trained by Darwin Banach, is a 4-year-old gelding who came up with the best effort of his career despite a less than ideal trip. In his only previous effort over the Canadian International course and distance he was a well-beaten third in last year’s Breeders’ Stakes.
Belichick, who ended a length behind English Conqueror in the Singspiel, was a comfortable winner of the Breeders’, the third leg of the Triple Crown for Canadian-bred three-year-olds. Owned by NK Racing and LNJ Foxwoods and conditioned by Josie Carroll, the Lemon Drop Kid colt will be ridden by Luis Contreras.
Primo Touch has started since the Singspiel, going coast-to-coast over 1 1/4 miles of turf in allowance company, and is expected to set the pace again here.
All Canadian International entrants carry 126 pounds under the weight-for-age terms.
The field for the Pattison Canadian International (Post – Horse – Jockey – Trainer):
1 – Corelli – Kazushi Kimura – Jonathan Thomas2 – Walton Street – Frankie Dettori – Charlie Appleby3 – Desert Encounter – Danny Tudhope – David Simcock4 – Bluegrass Parkway – Patrick Husbands – Mike Maker5 – Primo Touch – Daisuke Fukumoto – Harold Ladouceur6 – Fantasioso – Joel Rosario – Ignacio Correas IV7 – Belichick – Luis Contreras – Josie Carroll8 – English Conqueror – Antonio Gallardo – Darwin Banach
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