By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
A big weekend of international racing will wrap up on Sunday when a quartet of graded stakes races are held at Woodbine racecourse in Canada, led by the $1,000,000 Pattison Canadian International (gr. I) and the $500,000 E. P. Taylor Stakes (gr. I). Both races have drawn top-notch fields with plenty of European shippers to consider, and the morning line odds suggest that there’s exceptional value to be found on some very talented horses. Let’s take a look at who’s running!
Canadian International (gr. I)
I’m going to try and avoid overthinking this race. After watching the rather unheralded English shipper Sheikhzayedroad win the Northern Dancer Stakes (gr. I) here at Woodbine last month, I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that the English shippers entered today will have an edge over their North American rivals.
There are two British invaders in the Canadian International, including morning line favorite Brown Panther. The very talented stayer enters off a romping win in the fourteen-furlong Irish St. Leger (Ire-I), in which he defeated Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-I) winner Leading Light and 2012 Ladbrokes St. Leger (Eng-I) winner Encke. Strictly from a class perspective, Brown Panther seems to have a substantial edge over his Canadian International rivals, and while he’s been running in longer races than this as of late, he is 5-for-7 in his career at twelve furlongs, so that shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
The most logical candidate to upset Brown Panther is Hillstar, the other English shipper. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, Hillstar has competed in ten consecutive group stakes races in England and Dubai, and while he’s only won two, he’s run well in several of the others and has stamped himself as a colt of exceptional talent. Three starts back, he was beaten just a neck by Cavalryman in the twelve-furlong Princess of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-II), and one start before that, he was a distant runner-up to Telescope in the Hardwicke Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot, which gives one an idea of the good company Hillstar has been keeping.
One could take a shot with either Brown Panther or Hillstar and feel good about their chances, but I’ll side with Hillstar since he’s had more recent experience at this distance and figures to offer better odds than Brown Panther. And of course, the top jockey Ryan Moore has come to ride him, which is another major positive.
Of the North American-based runners, Big Blue Kitten has compiled the best record, but doesn’t seem to be as sharp as he was last year and is unlikely to offer good odds. I am intrigued by the chances of Dynamic Sky, runner-up in the Northern Dancer last time out. He showcased an impressive turn-of-foot that day and figures to enjoy the moist ground he is likely to find on Sunday. At 15-1 on the morning line, he definitely warrants a look.
E. P. Taylor Stakes (gr. I)
Fully half of the eight fillies and mares entered in this ten-furlong race are shipping in from Europe, including 7-5 morning line favorite Just the Judge. Trained by Charles Hills, who won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I) with Chriselliam, Just the Judge stamped herself as a filly of the highest caliber when she triumphed in the Irish 2,000 Guineas (Fr-I) last year. She hasn’t won in seven starts since then, but last time out, she put in a strong late rally to finish third by one length in the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) at Arlington Park, and a repeat of that performance would make her difficult to beat on Sunday. So although her odds are unappealing, she is my selection to win.
Her biggest challenge may come from Deceptive Vision, an Ontario-bred daughter of A.P. Indy that has cracked the trifecta in all seven of her career starts. After running well without winning both the Nassau Stakes (gr. II) and Dance Smartly Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine, Deceptive Vision broke through with an eye-catching triumph in the "about" nine-furlong Canadian Stakes (gr. II) last month, romping to a 2 1/2-length victory after trailing by five lengths after the opening half-mile. Her pedigree suggests that the distance of the E.P. Taylor shouldn’t be a concern, and while I’m not sure she’s as good as Just the Judge, she is more than capable of securing the victory if Just the Judge fails to bring her best effort.
I would also like to mention Royal Fury, runner-up to Deceptive Vision in the Canadian Stakes. Royal Fury has run very well in her last three starts, all stakes, and while her biggest victories to date have come in allowance races, she’s seems to be on the rise and is a solid 15-1 on the morning line. At that price, she could spruce up the exotics if she hits the board.
Who do you like at Woodbine this Sunday?