You have to give the folks at Woodbine credit--their grade I races are never dull. For the second consecutive year, the $1.5-million (Canadian funds, about $950,800) Canadian International provided a thrilling finish and more than its share of drama as four separate claims of foul--including one against the victorious Mutamam--and a dead heat delayed the official posting of the Sept. 30 race for about 20 minutes. Memories of last year's International--when Mutafaweq won a controversial photo over Williams News--came streaming back as the Ontario Racing Commission stewards frantically sifted through the fouls. In the end, Sheikh Hamdan's brave 6-year-old Mutamam and jockey Richard Hills were cleared of any wrongdoing--it appeared the German horse Paolini, who lost by only a half-length, was guilty of trying to rip Hills' arm off with a savage bite. The respective third- and fourth-place finishers, Zindabad and Daliapour, erased what would have been a European sweep when they were both disqualified. The former was placed sixth for interfering with Falcon Flight in the stretch while the latter was placed seventh for impeding the local 3-year-old Strut the Stage into the first turn. Adding to the confusion, Falcon Flight and Strut the Stage dead-heated at the wire and eventually shared fourth money. "That was the longest 10 or so minutes; it felt like an hour," said a relieved Hills, whose wild weekend began the previous afternoon when he "stole" the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot on longshot Summoner. The International, the sixth leg of the Emirates World Series, and its filly/mare counterpart, the $500,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes (Can-I), managed to attract large fields of Europeans and Americans despite concerns about foot-and-mouth disease and the effects of the recent terrorist attacks on air travel. Mutamam, the morning-line favorite, came with solid credentials for his top-notch trainer Alec Stewart. The English-bred son of Darshaan was one of the best 3-year-olds of 1998 in Europe, was narrowly beaten when fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs, and boasted a pair of group wins this season. The fans at Woodbine weren't convinced, however, and bet Sam-Son Farm's promising Strut the Stage down to 5-2 favoritism. From the start, the International was a roughly run race. At the break, Paolini, a multiple group I winner, dwelt badly and lost five lengths. Heading into the first, sweeping, uphill turn of the E.P. Taylor turf course, Daliapour, under John Murtagh, raced erratically and wiped out Strut the Stage, causing that colt to check sharply. Meanwhile, Hills and the white-faced Mutamam grabbed a great spot behind front-running Dawson's Legacy. "The race went very good for me," said Hills. "It was a good, honest pace and I got him settled down the (backstretch)." The pace fractions of :25.21, :50.44, and 1:15.32 were fair given the slightly giving nature of the course, but soon Hills found himself alone on the lead on the final turn, and that worried Stewart. "It's long stretch run for a horse in front," said Stewart. "I had wished that Dawson's Legacy had taken us farther because that probably set the race up for the Paolinis of the world to come on." Indeed, the stretch runners clumped up behind Mutamam and that's where the fun began. Falcon Flight, trained by 35-year-old Don Burke, had finally found room on the rail and was mounting a bid when the French-bred Zindabad bore in and caused him to check. Paolini and his rider, Andreas Suborics, had managed to get a better trip after the faulty start and they were charging. As that massive chestnut got to the flank of Mutamam, his head suddenly turned when he reached for his foe. After the stewards and the jockeys of Falcon Flight and Strut the Stage claimed their fouls, Paolini's trainer, Andreas Wohler, did the same, thinking his horse was hit in the face with Hills' whip. "I felt a horse come very close to me," said Hills. "What they thought was that I hit him with my whip, but I made absolutely no contact at all." The stewards agreed. Once the inquiry dust had settled, Eugene and Laura Melnyk and Bill and Iris Bristow's 48-1 shot Lodge Hill had been moved up from fifth to third (a $125,000 swing in purse money). The final time of 2:28.46 was well off Raintrap's stakes record. The winner's share of the purse ($900,000, Canadian funds) boosted the horse's earnings to over $1.38 million from 11 wins in 20 starts. Mutamam, who was sidelined by an infected stomach as a result of colic earlier this year, could be on his way to another shot at the Breeders' Cup. "One thing I will say about this horse, he's possibly not the best horse I've ever trained but he is definitely the most genuine," said Stewart. CHOC FULL OF RUN Choc Ice's upset score in the $500,000 E.P. Taylor confirmed the European horses' love for Woodbine's unique grass course. The 3-year-old Irish-bred, French-trained filly, in her first race with Lasix, burst out of an eight-horse stretch charge and held off another French miss, Volga, to win by a neck at 31-1. Choc Ice, who had won just two of 16 career starts, was ridden with precision by Murtagh. The daughter of Kahyasi--Sherkiya is owned by Micheline Vidal and trained by Robert Collet. "I was very confident," said Collet. "I was wanting to come here because I love this track and town." Choc Ice raced the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.01 and paid $64.10 as the third-longest shot in the 13-horse field. Between the two grade I races, Mr. Epperson probably locked up champion sprinter honors in Canada with his 1 1/4-length win in the $164,850 Highlander Handicap (Can-III) at six furlongs. Mr. Epperson, a $50,000 claim two years ago by trainer Scott Fairlie for his father Robert, Brian Brolley, and Ronald Marlow, had previously won the Nearctic Stakes (Can-IIT) and Play the King Handicap (Can-IIIT) this year. The 6-year-old son of Cabrini Green won for the fifth time in seven starts this year, and it was his 16th win from 41 starts.
(More, Text of the Stewards' Ruling)(Chart, Equibase)