Three year-old Phoenix Reach, expertly ridden by Martin Dwyer, came through on the inside in mid-stretch and went on to win the $1.5 million Pattison Canadian International (Can-I) at Woodbine Sunday.
Making his first North American start, the lightly-raced bay colt was three-quarters of a length ahead of Macaw and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan. Brian Boru, the 6-5 favorite with Jamie Spencer up, finished a head further back in third after trailing for most of the mile and one-half turf classic. The final time over the 'yielding' course was 2:33.62.
Phoenix Reach, an Irish-bred but English-owned and trained son of Alhaarth, was making only his fifth career start in the International. He'd raced just once as a juvenile, then suffered a pastern injury, delaying the start of his sophomore campaign until July at Newbury in England.
He came into Canada's richest thoroughbred race off a third-place finish to Brian Boru in the English St. Leger (Eng-I) at Doncaster Sept. 13, beaten less than three lengths. Today, equipped with blinkers for the first time, Phoenix Reach, owned by Winterbeck Manor Stud (Andrew Christou), was sent off the second choice at 5-1 in a field of 10.
Trained by Andrew Balding, the son of legendary trainer Ian Balding, Phoenix Reach was well placed while chasing pacesetters Shoal Water and Bowman Mill in third. When the field turned for home and straightened away for the long run down the E.P. Taylor Turf Course stretch, Bowman Mill and jockey Brice Blanc took a slight lead. However, a patient Dwyer and Phoenix Reach found a seam between the pacesetters, knifing through to assume command as Macaw and Brian Boru continued to close.
Macaw came out from mid-pack to challenge while Brian Boru charged hard on the outside. But Phoenix Reach was able to fend them off in a drive to the wire. Bowman Mill faded late to be fourth, but less than two lengths from the winner.
The Pattison Canadian International, in its 66th edition, was the seventh of 13 legs in the World Series Racing Championship, in association with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited. It also proved to be the first grade I win for Phoenix Reach. He took a group III event at Goodwood in July.
"I've been very lucky," said Balding, in his first year as a conditioner. "I've taken over a yard full of talented horses and good staff. I'm very thrilled today. I was a little bit concerned early on. We work him a lot in a visor (blinkers) at home. He's quite an idle horse at home. It certainly set him alight early on.
"I was just worried if he'd get the trip, running that keenly. But Martin did a great job. We dropped him back from a mile and six (furlongs) in the St. Leger to a mile and a half, which is his trip, really. The horse has got a lot of speed, a good turn of foot and it wouldn't surprise me if he went a good race over 10 furlongs one day."
Last year's winner, Ballingarry, was a morning scratch after coming down with an infection in his right hind hock. The 4-year-old son of Sadler's Wells was sent for treatment to the clinic at the University of Guelph, where he must remain for five days.
"It's an amazing feeling today to win this race," said an elated Dwyer, a 28-year-old enjoying a career year. He won the classic English Oaks (Eng-I) at Epsom Downs in June aboard Casual Look for Balding as well. He'd ridden Phoenix Reach only once before, a winning maiden effort July 3.
"I was a bit concerned early on because he got a bit buzzed off. He's not used to this before the race, all the build up. And he jumped a bit keen. But I managed to get him in behind in the back straight and he came home real good. I had plenty of horse underneath me. I just had to be a bit patient. There were horses in front of me but they were actually dropping back. I was just waiting for the split. When I got it, he went."
For his biggest career triumph to date, Phoenix Reach picked up a jackpot of $900,000. He's never been worse than third, now boasting three wins, one second and one third and career earnings now of $1,137,276.
Phoenix Reach became the seventh Irish-bred and 12th 3-year-old to win the International since 1958, following on the heels of Ballingarry last year. He and Brian Boru carried 119 pounds, while 4-year-old Macaw was saddled with 126 pounds.
Phoenix Reach paid $12.80, $6.00 and $3.80, combining with Macaw ($8.40, $4.20) for a $137.50 exacta. Brian Boru, ($2.50) completed a trifecta payout of $353.80.