The entries for Sunday's Grade 1, C$1.5 million
International are dominated by Europeans, both quantitatively and
qualitatively. Seven of the 11 contenders are based on the other side of the
pond, including the Aidan O'Brien-trained Imperial Monarch; 2010 Canadian
International winner Joshua Tree; Wigmore Hall, two-for-two in his previous
visits to Woodbine; and Reliable Man, last year's Group 1 French Derby hero. The
North American team comprises Al Khali, Air Support, Prince Will I Am and an
ex-European in Forte dei Marmi.
Aside from the prestige and lucrative purse, the Canadian International offers an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Turf as a "Win and You're In" event.
Imperial Monarch brings a sterling three-for-four career mark, with his only loss a nightmare-trip eighth in a rough running of the June 3 French Derby. An impressive maiden winner in his only start at two, the Galileo colt captured the Group 3 Sandown Classic Trial in his reappearance. In that April 28 prep on heavy going, he took the brave route all alone on the stands' side of the course, losing plenty of ground in the process, but rallied strongly to win going away.
While Imperial Monarch would have been a worthy participant in the Group 1 Derby, his connections already had Camelot bound for Epsom. Instead he was diverted to the French version, where he lost all chance with his trouble. Imperial Monarch was entered in the Group 1 Irish Derby, but again bowed out in favor of Camelot, and returned to France on a rebound mission for the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris on Bastille Day. Taking early command, he led throughout and held on by a head in another messy finish.
Imperial Monarch has not raced since that July 14 victory, but has run well fresh so far, and gets a seven-pound weight concession from his older male rivals. Installed as the 3-1 favorite on Sunday, he will break from post 10 with top British jockey Ryan Moore.
"I think he's had so little racing that he's still learning (about a preferred racing style)," O'Brien's assistant T.J. Comerford said. "The last time, he made it (the pace). It didn't bother him. He's got a great temperament.
"Whatever Aidan decides is the style he'll use. Aidan will talk to Ryan about it and decide what to do. Ryan Moore is a very top class rider. That's why Aidan likes him.
"Aidan likes this horse. He's very lightly raced but we might be a lot wiser after. He's a good horse.
"I just hope we see him at his best on Sunday. He's been off (for three months) but at the same time, we're getting him here thinking we've got him spot on. He's got loads of ability. It depends on how competitive a race it is."
Joshua Tree prevailed in this race two years ago when trained by O'Brien.
Subsequently transferred to Marco Botti, he was runner-up as the defending
champion in 2011, and makes his third foray to Woodbine here. The five-year-old
son of Montjeu enters in sharp form. The winner of the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay at
Deauville two starts back, Joshua Tree was most recently a fine third in the
Group 2 Prix Foy, beaten just 1 1/4 lengths by Japanese Horse of the Year and
Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe near-misser Orfevre. Frankie Dettori will be
"(In the Prix Foy) I thought he was in very good form," Botti said. "He seems to be coming into his best recently. I haven't trained many horses as tough as he is. He loves the traveling. You put him on a plane and he seems to enjoy it."
Traveling head lad Keith Williams also noted that Joshua Tree is in fine fettle at the moment.
"He's rarin' to go," Williams said. "He's jumping and kicking out there. He's in real good form."
Wigmore Hall has shipped in to claim the past two editions of the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf over this course and 1 1/2-mile distance. Last year, the Michael Bell trainee didn't return for the Canadian International, opting instead to stay home for the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot, where he wound up ninth. His luck did not improve in 2012, and he went winless until he came back to Woodbine and successfully defended his title in the September 16 Northern Dancer Turf, beating Sunday rivals Al Khali, Forte dei Marmi and Scalo. Rather than face Frankel in another tilt at the Champion Stakes, Wigmore Hall has wisely chosen this target at his pet course.
"This (the International) will obviously be a better race (than the Northern Dancer Turf)," Bell said. "But I think the environment there really suits him. He's also been given two really blinding rides by Jamie Spencer. We'll see how he gets on when upped in class."
Reliable Man was under consideration for last Sunday's Arc, but trainer Alan
de Royer-Dupre decided to point for the Canadian International. Although the
Dalakhani colt has dropped six straight since landing the Group 2 Prix Niel in
2011, sparking sarcastic jokes about his name, his formline has been quite
strong this summer.
A late-running fourth to So You Think in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, Reliable Man filled that same spot behind Danedream, Nathaniel and St Nicholas Abbey in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The gray returned from his summer holiday with a useful second in the Group 3 La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte September 21, and should be spot on for his first start outside of Europe. Olivier Peslier, fresh from his record-tying fourth Arc win, will reunite with Reliable Man.
Also testing the North American turf for the first time are Dandino and the filly Lay Time. Dandino, a Group 2 veteran, was outdueled by Sea Moon in the Tapster Stakes earlier this season. Two starts ago, the James Fanshawe charge was runner-up to Group 1 Melbourne Cup-bound Quest for Peace, beating another Cup hopeful in Gatewood. Dandino came right back to score handily in the Group 3 September Stakes over Kempton's Polytrack. The Andrew Balding-trained Lay Time steps up to 1 1/2 miles for the first time, but her pedigree suggests that she'll handle it. The daughter of Galileo has already proven her mettle versus males in her last pair, taking the Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes and just missing in the Group 3 Arc Trial at Newbury.
Rounding out the European contingent is two-time German highweight Scalo, who has made Woodbine his home away from home over the past couple of months. The Andreas Wohler trainee finished an encouraging third in the Grade 2 Sky Classic August 19, but didn't move forward when fourth in the Northern Dancer Turf. The classy son of Lando, who was a distant second to Danedream in last summer's Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin, gets a rider switch to Andrasch Starke and adds blinkers.
"I only arrived Monday," assistant trainer Christa Germann said, "but the horse looks much better than he did at home (during the summer).
"I think he'll give a good effort. He'll be more concentrated (with blinkers). He could be closer (to the pace than normal).
"Andrasch is the best jockey in Germany. There should be no problem."
Forte dei Marmi was no better than Group 3-placed in Europe, but has found more success in North America with trainer Roger Attfield. A smashing last-to-first winner of the Sky Classic, the Selkirk gelding got up for third in the Northern Dancer Turf, his first attempt at this trip. John Velazquez picks up the mount on the deep closer.
Grade 2 winner Al Khali has run three big races at Woodbine, albeit in
defeat. Beaten less than a length by Joshua Tree after a troubled trip in the
2010 Canadian International, the Bill Mott charge has twice placed to Wigmore
Hall in the Northern Dancer Turf. Al Khali has also placed in three straight
editions of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational over 1 1/2 miles at Saratoga,
finishing best-of-the-rest behind the streaking Point of Entry in his last Spa
Air Support has yet to race this far, but might be crying out for the added ground. Trained by Shug McGaughey, the Stuart Janney homebred has posted his signature wins at 1 1/4 miles -- last year's Grade 2 Virginia Derby and the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap in his latest -- and was a closing second in the Grade 1 United Nations at 1 3/8 miles.
Grade 1 veteran Prince Will I Am has proven stamina, having won at this distance and also crossed the wire second in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Marathon (only to be disqualified for interference). But he was sidelined for more than 14 months, and in his comeback, trailed in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap. Although the Michelle Nihei pupil is entitled to improve, he must answer stiff class questions in his second start off the lengthy layoff.