Canadian International day at Woodbine racetrack was so much more than the famous Grade 1 race that headlined the internationally-flavoured October afternoon of racing.
Sure, the remarkable last-to-first rush by the venerable 7-year-old Desert Encounter to become the sixth horse to win two editions of the great race – Joshua Tree is the lone three-time winner — made the writing easy for media.
But the day’s supporting features were similarly filled with excitement, emotion and had a warm local flavour, too.
There was two-time Canadian champion Starship Jubilee, a tough little mare trained by Toronto’s Kevin Attard, who won her first Grade 1 with her sparkling front running win in the E.P. Taylor.
And tears welled when City Boy, owned by the late Gustav Schickedanz and trained by Mike Keogh, who is fighting cancer, upset the Nearctic Stakes (Grade 2) with jockey Jesse Campbell, who announced he was leaving Woodbine that weekend.
Desert Encounter, an Irish-bred bright bay trained by David Simcock for Abdulla Al Mansoori came back to Woodbine on a three-race winning streak, all Group 3s in England. His connections admit he is a bit of a funny sort on race day; he wears his trademark black headgear with ear muffs and almost always breaks slowly from the gate.
True to form, Desert Encounter (Halling–La Chicana (Ire), by Invincible Spirit (Ire)) stood in the gate for almost a full second while his five rivals went on their way over a turf course that was on the yielding side from a week of rain.
Jockey Andrea Atzeni just let the gelding settle in the back, cued him up on the turn for home and then steered the wise old guy to a half-length win under a hand ride.
“It’s great when you’ve got a horse that can go around and travel like that,” said Simcock from his Trillium Place yard in Newmarket. “Andrea gave him a lovely ride. The horse missed the break, as he can, but Andrea didn’t panic and timed his run perfectly.”
French Group 3 winner Alounak finished second over favoured Ziyad, winner of the Grand Prix de Deauville (Grade 1) in his most recent start for his breeders Wertheimer et Frere.
It took Desert Encounter 2:28.62 to complete this year’s International, virtually the same time as his win last year when he went in 2:28.88.
That’s now 12 wins from 31 starts for Desert Encounter who could be back for a third attempt at the International in 2020.
JUBILATION IN THE TAYLOR
Attard and father Tino, both accomplished trainers at Woodbine, were shopping for horses to bring back to Woodbine during the 2017 winter meeting at Gulfstream when they spotted Starship Jubilee. A daughter of speedy miler Indy Wind, she had won a few claiming races so Kevin and long-time horse owner Soli Mehta, from Toronto, dropped in a claim slip for $16,000.
Nineteen races later, Starship Jubilee has blossomed into one of the best turf mares seen at Woodbine in many years. On International day, she won her first Grade 1, also the first for Attard, while defeating some solid European and American mares in the E.P. Taylor Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf.
Now owned by Bonnie Baskin and Adam Corndorf’s Blue Heaven Farm in Kentucky, who kept Attard on to train, Starship Jubilee and her rider, Luis Contreras, stalked the pace of British filly Red Tea, grabbed the lead inside the quarter pole and held off German filly Durance to win by a length in 2:03.29.
The Taylor win, worth $360,000 (Cdn) to the mare, was her 14th career win in 31 races and ninth win since Attard claimed her. Her earnings now stand at over $1.13 million.
BIG WIN FOR CITY BOY
It has been a difficult year for anyone associated with the stable of the late Gustav Schickedanz. The popular horseman from Schomberg, ON has bred and raced dozens of top horses in Canada for over 40 years. From Grade 1 winner Langfuhr, who went on to be a top stallion, to Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando, the farm had been among the country’s most successful breeders for decades. In recent years, however, horse numbers scaled down and stakes wins were infrequent.
Schickedanz passed away this spring soon after receiving the E.P. Taylor Award of Merit at the Sovereign Awards in April. His long-time trainer Mike Keogh has been battling cancer for two years.
But there was the tall and lanky City Boy (City Zip–Princess Ruckus, by Bold Ruckus) in the middle of a wild stretch battle in the Nearctic Stakes (Grade 2), sticking out his long neck to win the six furlong turf dash at 24-1.
City Boy was greeted in the winner’s circle with many cheers and some tears.
“It’s been a long year this one, a difficult year,” said Keogh. “I nominated him to this race before his last race thinking we might take a shot if no heavy hitters came up and that’s what happened. This one’s for Gus.”