Race of the Week: Canadian International
by Joe Wulffe
Saturday October 13th: Race 9 at Woodbine. The $800,000 Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes run at 1 ½ miles on the turf for three year olds and upward. Post Time: 5:41 PM EDT.
(A note to all readers: All selections for this race were made with turf conditions being rated as GOOD at race time. Should the course improve and be rated as FIRM before post time, selections will be adjusted to reflect the change in conditions.)
(4) Funtastic: Chad Brown sends out this four year old son of More Than Ready after a more than two month layoff following a very disappointing performance in the Sword Dancer Stakes (G1T) at Saratoga in August. In that race, Funtastic inexplicably failed to break well from the gates and was forced to take up a pace-stalking role several lengths behind the eventual winner Glorious Empire, who ended up wiring the field. Now the turf course that day was nearly rock hard with no give in the ground whatsoever; however, the turf course Funtastic is likely to encounter on Saturday will definitely have some give in the ground as it was rated as good on Friday and is expected to remain rated as such into the weekend. This presents a slight problem for Funtastic as he has yet to race over anything less than firm turf thus far in his career. However, the potential solution to this issue lies in the possible pace scenario, which will be discussed momentarily. Funtastic will be contesting twelve furlongs once again on Saturday and prior to his Sword Dancer effort, he had managed to win both of his first two tries at the distance. He comes into this race in good form following a series of solid works that Brown put him through over the Saratoga main track and should be ready to fire on Saturday.
In his first two attempts at one and a half miles, Funtastic displayed a pace-setting running style with brilliant early speed as in each of those races he took the respective fields gate to wire. Such tactics will likely be necessary again; although, it appears that Funtastic may not be the speediest horse in this field. That distinction lies with the horse drawn to his outside in Tiz a Slam who will likely be sent from the get go and in doing so will either prompt Funtastic to go with him (setting up a potential speed duel early on) or force him to tuck up along the rail and rate just off of the pace. Should Funtastic elect to do the latter, it is quite likely that he will find much firmer ground there on which to run as this portion of the turf course has not been used in nearly a month. Such positioning by his jockey, John Velazquez, would allow Funtastic to save all the ground all the while getting an ideal trip along the rail which should permit him to have the first opportunity to strike for the lead should Tiz a Slam begin to falter. Additionally, if Funtastic can find a way to return to the 103 Bris Speed Rating (BSR) that he posted in his effort in the United Nations (G1T), then he will be quite dangerous on Saturday. Chad Brown has done quite well with runners that are returning to racing after layoffs of 46-90 days as he has been winning under those conditions at a 27% rate and moreover finishing in the money in 61% of his last 777 starts over the past three years. John Velazquez will get the call to ride on Saturday and thus far he has been doing well in turf races, having won 20% of his past 345 starts. It is doubtful that Funtastic goes off at his ML odds of 8-1, but anything around 5-1 should certainly be of value. If this colt can rebound off of that perplexing Sword Dancer effort and get a good trip under Velazquez, then he could be the one to beat on Saturday.
(2) Thundering Blue: Trainer David Menuisier ships over this five year old son of Exchange Rate to contest North American turf racing for the first time in his career. This summer has marked a sort of coming out party for the grey as he rose from handicap-level competition over in Britain to becoming a Group 2 winner followed by being Group 1 placed against some of the best turf runners in all of Europe. It was his effort in the Juddmonte International Stakes (G1T) at York back in August that caused members of the international racing community to pause and begin to take notice of him. Thundering Blue was not good enough to qualify for that race and in fact has to be supplemented into it by his owners. In that effort, he came from the back of the field with a massive run and in doing so took down the likes of Saxon Warrior, Benbatl, and Thunder Snow and was far from disgraced in finishing third behind Roaring Lion and Poet’s Word, arguably two of the best turf runners in Europe right now not named Enable. Thundering Blue followed that effort up with a victory in the Stockholm Cup International (G3T) over a course at Bro Park said to closely mimic the one at Woodbine and thus prepare him for the unique configuration of the E.P. Taylor Turf Course. Over the course of his career, Thundering Blue has proven himself to be quite capable of handling a multitude of turf conditions and unlike many European runners that ship over to run in North American has actually demonstrated that he is perhaps at his best over good to firm going on grass.
The biggest question for Thundering Blue on Saturday regards pace. This horse is a true one run closer in the classic sense with a devastating late kick that will propel him down the stretch. However, as there is not a whole lot of early speed entered into this field outside of Funtastic and Tiz a Slam, and unless some of the other runners that have shown the ability to rate just off of the pace apply pressure early on, then the initial fractions for this race could be less than torrid which could put the bevy of closers, Thundering Blue included, at a disadvantage. However, he is possibly the classiest runner in the field and should he get moderate fractions to run after, then he will be coming late down that stretch and should have a fairly good chance to hit the board on Saturday. Additionally, it is good to see that not only does he boast a record of 7-4-1-1 when racing in left-handed turf races but also that his connections have eschewed use of Lasix for this race. His jockey for his last four starts, Fran Berry, with whom he has yet to finish off the board will ship over as well to ride on Saturday. Thundering Blue very well could be the horse to beat in this field, but given the concerns about the potential pace for this race and his ML odds of 2-1 which are likely to dip even lower by post time, this one warrants use playing underneath only.
(9) Johnny Bear: Trainer Ashlee Brnjas sends out this seven year old son of English Channel looking to redeem himself after a poor showing in last year’s edition of this race. Johnny Bear comes into this race having hit the board in his last three starts, culminating with a victory in the prep for this race, the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (G1T) last month. Simply put Johnny Bear loves racing at Woodbine as over the course of his career he has assembled a record of 22-4-6-2 at this track. Moreover, he appears to enjoy racing at twelve furlongs as well as he finished in the money in six of his nine lifetime attempts at the distance. Also over the course of those last three starts, all against stakes company, he posted three triple digit BSRs, which if he can repeat any of those efforts will make him very dangerous on Saturday. Additionally, he has proven that he is just as capable racing over ground with some give in it as he is racing over firm turf and thus the turf conditions for Saturday’s race should give him no issues.
Johnny Bear’s preferred running style is that of a pace-stalker though he does have some tactical ability as well; this was demonstrated in his last race when he managed to come from well off of the pace and win as he had raced much closer to the pacesetters in his prior efforts. However, Johnny Bear will likely revert to rating just off of the pace on Saturday, especially if the initial fractions are not particularly swift. Such tactics will likely put him in a good position to make one of the first runs at the leaders, before the closers get rolling, and could thrust him into contention as the field turns for home. On Saturday, Johnny Bear will once again have Luis Contreras onboard as the jockey has been with him throughout the bulk of his career. Contreras has done well this year riding in turf races as he has been winning those races at a 17% rate (from 209 starts). Meanwhile, although the sample size is limited, Brnjas has been winning graded stakes races over the past three years at a 33% rate, all the while posting a $7.33 R.O.I. Thus it would not be a huge surprise to see Johnny Bear win on Saturday, especially if the closers are compromised by a slow pace, although an on the board finish for a minor award may be more likely.
Of the rest of the runners in this field, perhaps the (7) English Illusion merits consideration for use as an underneath play. This five year old son of English Channel, trained by Sylvain Pion, was rolling late in the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (G1T) and finished third, just a length behind Johnny Bear. Like his aforementioned rival, English Illusion not only enjoys racing at Woodbine where he has posted a 14-2-2-3 record but also over twelve furlongs as he has finished in the money in five of seven career attempts at the distance. Since being claimed back in August, English Illusion has rewarded his connections with two solid efforts against stakes company and looks to continue that trend on Saturday. His recent speed figures have been quite solid and if he can repeat or at least come close to the 104 BSR he posted in his last effort, he could be a threat to hit the board once again. Although he is depicted as being a closer by Brisnet, English Illusion is actually far more versatile than that as he has also shown an ability to run well when tracking the pace from close up. He may revert to such tactics on Saturday, if the initial pace does not set up well for his closing running style, and thus could put himself into contention even before the field turns for home. English Illusion is likely to be overlooked on the toteboard and thus could go off at a fairly big price, which absolutely warrants his inclusion in any exotic wagering.