Desert Encounter Arrives for International; Imperial Charm in for the E.P. Taylor

Last year's Pattison Canadian International winner Desert Encounter is riding a three stakes winning streak; Nessy is among the main challengers.

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Desert Encounter, the defending champion in the Canadian International, checked back in at Woodbine late Saturday afternoon along with Ian Russell, travelling head lad for trainer David Simcock.

“He shipped in very well,” said Russell. “He’s an old hand at this.”

Desert Encounter, owned by Abdulla Al Mansoori, has won his last three starts, all in Group 3 company in England.

Andrea Atzeni, who rode Desert Encounter to victory here last year, will be back in the saddle for the first time since then. Atzeni also captured the Canadian International’s companion feature, the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes for fillies and mares, with Sheikha Reika.

Accompanying Desert Encounter on his London to Frankfurt to Toronto flights was the maiden Imperial Charm, who is here for Saturday’s $600,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on the turf.

“She shipped well,” said Les Reynolds, travelling head lad for trainer Simon Crisford. “She’s been to France several times, but this is her first long haul. She seems to have handled it well.”

Owned by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, the three-year-old filly turned in two solid efforts in Group 1 company at Longchamp this year, finishing fourth in the Poule d’Essai de Pouliche and third in Prix Saint Alary. Atzeni, aboard for those efforts, retains the mount here.


NESSY, a half brother to the late BULLARDS ALLEY, who won the Canadian International two years ago in 2017, will go for Grade 1 glory in the same race this Saturday at Woodbine - Coady Photos - Keeneland

NESSY, a full brother to the late BULLARDS ALLEY, who won the Canadian International two years ago in 2017, will go for Grade 1 glory in the same race this Saturday at Woodbine – Coady Photos – Keeneland

In 2017, the late Bullards Alley shipped in from Kentucky and was a 10 ¾ length winner while returning a record $87.90 in the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine.

On Saturday, his full brother, Nessy, will be looking to replicate the feat in the 82nd running of the $800,000 showpiece over 1 ½ miles of turf.

Trainer Ian Wilkes was well aware of the pedigree connection and acknowledged that as one reason for Nessy’s targeting the Canadian International. Another was that Nessy had not been effective at Kentucky Downs, which has been a logical geographical target.

“He doesn’t like Kentucky Downs—he’s never run good there,” said Wilkes, who had raced Nessy at the previous three editions of that abbreviated meeting. “That’s the only track he’s never run good.”

So, after sending out Nessy for a closing seventh-place finish in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at Ellis Park on August 4, Wilkes set his sights on Woodbine.

“We were always earmarking him for the two races at Woodbine this year,” said Wilkes, who conditions Nessy for Sierra Farm.

Nessy launched the first phase of his two-race Woodbine mission when he shipped up from his Keeneland base to finish second behind English shipper Old Persian in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer, run over the Canadian International course and distance on September 14.

“I thought he ran a very good race,” said Wilkes. “He ran into a buzzsaw, the Godolphin horse. He’s a legitimate Grade 1 horse, he’s very good. For him to nose out two other really good horses at the wire, to get second, was a huge performance.”

Nessy, whose career highlight to date was a rallying 2018 victory in Santa Anita’s Grade 3 San Juan Capistrano over 1 ¾ miles of turf, already had started nine times when he joined the Wilkes barn for the start of his four-year-old campaign.

“I was fortunate—he had some conditions,” said Wilkes. “And, the horse always tries hard. That’s one thing you like about him. Some races he wasn’t good enough, but he really tries hard. And, I think he’s starting to get better and better this year.”

Wilkes believes that a change in attitude has helped Nessy raise his game.

“Early on, I thought he wanted to be in the race a little more,” said Wilkes. “He’d been very quirky to ride. One day he’d break bad, and put himself back. Next day he’d break, and he’d be up near the front. These days he’s enjoying his racing, where he just relaxes early and finishes.

“He’s a cool little horse. He’s just a pleasure to be around. Everybody loves Nessy.”

Probable Field for $800,000 Pattison Canadian International

Horse – Trainer – Owner – Jockey

1. Alounak (FR) – Waldemar Hickst – Darius Racing – Clement Levoeuvre
– 4-year-old colt is a one-time winner, 5th in Group 1 in Germany in most recent

2. Desert Encounter (IRE) – David Simcock – Abdulla Al Mansoori – Andrea Atzeni
– 7yo was last year’s winner has won 3 straight Group 3’s

3. Nessy – Ian Wilkes – Sierra Farm – Chris Landeros
– Second in the Northern Dancer Turf at Woodbine last time to Old Persian; 6yo won a Grade 3 in 2018

4. Pivoine (IRE) – Andrew Balding – King Power Racing Co. Ltd. – Rob Hornby
– 5yo was 5th in Grade 1 Arlington Million, went back overseas, recently 2nd to Desert Encounter in Gr 3

5. Pumpkin Rumble – Kevin Attard – Al and Bill Ulwelling – Eurico Rosa Da Silva
– Set a course record in stakes win at Parx, 1 1/16 miles turf; 0 for 7 at 12 furlongs on turf

6. Tiz a Slam – Roger Attfield – Chiefswood Stables Limited – Steven Bahen
– Won three straight graded stakes on turf at 12 furlongs before 4th in the Northern Dancer Turf

7. Ziyad (GB) – Carlos Laffon-Parias – Wertheimer et Frere – Maxime Guyon
– 4yo just won his maiden in the Group 2 Gran Prix de Deauville, was previously 2nd in Group 1 Prix de S Cloud


E.P. Taylor Stakes Contenders

1. Holy Helena – Won Dance Smartly this year

2. Starship Jubilee – 2 time Champion Turf Female

3. Santa Monica – 3rd in 2018 Taylor

4. Red Tea – Group 2 winner

5. Imperial Charm (GB)- Group 1 placed maiden

6. Gaining (GB) – Kentucky shipper, Group 3 winner

7. Secret Message – won Nassau Stakes in spring



The star-studded Pattison Canadian International program at Woodbine will kick off this Saturday following a Jockey Meet & Greet session.

A number of top Woodbine jockeys will be available to meet fans and sign autographs near Guest Experience Central on the second floor of the grandstand before the first race. The session will run from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.

The 1:05 p.m. race card features the $800,000 Pattison Canadian International (Grade 1), $600,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes (Grade 1) and $250,000 Nearctic Stakes (Grade 2).


~ with files from Jennifer Morrison