Thundering Blue, coming off an impressive win in Sweden’s Group 3 Stockholm Cup International, heads a large and competitive field of 11 for Saturday’s Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine Racetrack.
The Pattison Canadian International, encompassing the full mile and a half layout of the gorgeous E.P. Taylor Turf Course, offers Grade 1 status and a purse of $800,000 for three-year-olds and upward.
Thundering Blue, based in England and the first Canadian International starter for his owner Clive Washbourn, trainer David Menuisier and jockey Fran Berry, has been an improved performer this year at age five.
After becoming a Group 2 winner in the York Stakes over 1 5/16 miles of turf, Thundering Blue made his Group 1 debut there in the Juddmonte International at the same distance and was beaten only by the top English three-year-olds Roaring Lion and Poet’s Word.
In Sweden, racing at 1 1/2 miles, Thundering Blue seemed to have his opposition measured throughout and was a two-length winner as the 2-5 choice.
European invaders had won six straight Canadian Internationals before the U.S.-based Bullard’s Alley ended the streak last year.
Thundering Blue drew post 2 and is the 2-1 favourite on Woodbine oddsmaker Ernie Perri’s morning line.
“The draw’s not always the biggest thing we think about,” said Kim Johnstone, wife and assistant to trainer David Menuisier. “He always pulls himself to the back, anyway.”
Spring Quality, based in Fair Hill, Maryland, with trainer Graham Motion, checks in for the Canadian International with worthy credentials.
Spring Quality upset the Grade 1 Manhattan over 1 1/4 miles of turf at Belmont this spring and followed up with a good third in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at 1 1/2 miles on Saratoga’s turf course. The Pennsylvania-bred six-year-old gelding now swings back two weeks after finishing last of seven in Belmont’s Grade 1 Turf Classic, which was run over a mile and a half of soft going.
The 4-1 second choice in the morning line, Spring Quality will break from post 6.
Desert Encounter, a six-year-old gelding, is a second English raider in the field and finished a close third last out over 1 3/8 miles of soft going in Newbury’s Group 3 Legacy Cup, a race which he had won last year. His current good form also includes a win in the listed August Stakes over 1 7/16 miles at Windsor.
Desert Encounter is the 6-1 third choice on the morning line and will begin from post 10, a spot which is just fine with travelling head lad Ian Russel.
“He can either go forward, or sit and let it all happen in front of him.”
Spearheading the local troops will be Johnny Bear, the popular seven-year-old gelding who races for John Burness (Colebrook Farms) and Danny Dion (Bear Stables Ltd.).
Johnny Bear had not hinted at much in terms of graded stakes potential when he followed up a win in last summer’s restricted Halton Stakes over 1 1/2 miles on turf with a narrow victory ahead of the favoured European invader Hawkbill in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer over the International course and distance.
Slow to round into top form this year for trainer Ashlee Brnjas, Johnny Bear finished a troubled second when making his fourth start in the Halton and then rose to the occasion once more in the Northern Dancer under regular rider Luis Contreras.
Contreras also likes the outwardly draw of post 9 for Johnny Bear, who is the co-fourth choice at 8-1.
“This way we can see all the speed, from the inside,” said Contreras.
Trainer Chad Brown, who seems to be on a never-ending roll south of the border, will be sending the four-year-old colts Funtastic (post 4, 8-1) and Focus Group (post 11,10-1) as he seeks his first Canadian International win.
Funtastic was a front-running winner of Monmouth Park’s Grade 1 United Nations over 1 3/8 of miles of firm turf when making his graded stakes debut on June 30. He disappointed next out, however, when seventh in the Sword Dancer.
Focus Group, who has been in solid form of late, put together a double on the turf at Saratoga capped by a last-gasp win in the restricted John’s Call at 1 5/8 miles on the grass.
Khan (post 3, 10-1) will be looking to become the first German invader to win the Canadian International and is arriving off a monstrous six-length score at 20-1 over a mile and a half of ‘’yielding” going in the Group 1 Preis Von Europa at Cologne. The four-year-old colt was recording his first group stakes win there.
Markitoff (post 1, 20-1) and Bandua (post 8, 20-1) are the other U.S. invaders and both call Kentucky home.
Markitoff, a four-year-old colt trained by Mike Maker, shipped here last month to assistant trainer Nolan Ramsey and finished fourth, beaten just a length, in the Northern Dancer.
Bandua, based in Kentucky with trainer Jack Sisterson, is facing older rivals for the first time and will be looking to become the first three-year-old to win the Canadian International since Joshua Tree recorded his first of three successes in the race in 2010.
The lightly-raced Bandua started twice for former trainer Dermot Weld after arriving in North America, finishing third in the Grade 1 Secretariat over 1 1/4 miles of turf at Arlington Park and fourth in the 1 5/16 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs.
This will be Bandua’s first start for Sisterson, who recently left his assistant trainer’s position with Doug O’Neill in California to accept his first full-fledged training assignment with Calumet Farm.
Not to be discounted are English Illusion and Tiz a Slam, the other locals in the lineup.
English Illusion was claimed for $45,000 on August 5 and promptly upset the Halton, surviving an inquiry in the process for trainer Sylvain Pion and new rider Rafael Hernandez. Buoyed by that success, Pion swung back in the Northern Dancer and watched his gelding finish third, beaten just one length in a closing effort.
English Illusion, seen as a 15-1 chance, will start from the 7-hole.
“I really like the post,” said Pion. “We can easily squeeze back, and see where everybody’s going.”
Tiz a Slam finished sixth in the Northern Dancer but was beaten just two lengths after becoming involved in an energy-sapping, front-end battle with the returning favourite Hawkbill.
The Chiefswood Stable homebred, trained by Roger Attfield, has been in the best form of his career since this summer with wins in the Grade 3 Dominion Day over 1 1/4 miles on the Tapeta and the Grade 2 Nijinsky over the Canadian International course and distance. Steven Bahen has been aboard since the four-year-old colt consistently adopted a forwardly-placed style.
Tiz A Slam, also held at 20-1, pulled post 5.
“It’s the perfect spot, right in the middle,” said Bahen. “He likes to run close to the pace. This puts us right there.”
First race post time is set for 1:05 p.m. (ET) for Saturday’s action-packed program, which also features the $500,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes (Grade 1), a 1-1/4-mile turf event for fillies and mares three years old and up, the $250,000 Nearctic Stakes (Grade 2), a six-furlong turf sprint for three-year-olds and up, and the $125,000 Ontario Derby (Grade 3) for three-year-olds, to be contested over 1-1/8 miles on the Tapeta. For more information, visit Woodbine.com.
The Pattison Canadian International is scheduled as the ninth race (approximate post time of 5:41 p.m.) and will be broadcast on TSN3 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.