Canadian International lives up to billing with strong quartet of invaders

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October 10th, 2016

The winners of the 2014 Melbourne Cup (G1), 2015 Grand Prix de Paris (G1), and 2016 Hardwicke (G2), and a triple classic performer this season, comprise a robust raiding party for Sunday’s Canadian International (G1) at Woodbine.

To name them, as opposed to playing the resume game: Germany’s Protectionist, French-based Erupt, The Queen’s Dartmouth, and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Idaho are set to take on a select group of North Americans. Fan favorite The Pizza Man, Wake Forest, World Approval, reformed claimer Taghleeb (in lieu of stablemate Da Big Hoss), and Canada’s own Danish Dynaformer make it a projected field of nine, according to the Woodbine notes. Da Big Hoss, who was originally penciled in, will instead swerve Woodbine and wait for the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1).

We’ll have more on the Canadian International as the week unfolds, especially after Thursday’s draw. But in the meantime, here’s a brief overview of the international quartet.

Protectionist developed into a world-class stayer under Andreas Wohler’s tutelage. After capturing the 2014 Hansa-Preis (G2) and Prix Kergorlay (G2), he headed Down Under for a Cups campaign. The son of Monsun warmed up with a fourth in the Caulfield Cup (G1), which put him spot-on for the Melbourne Cup, and he rolled to a four-length decision over the venerable Red Cadeaux. Instead of returning home to Germany, Protectionist remained in Australia and joined Kris Lees, but was unhappy as an expat and totally lost his form in 2015.

Reunited with Wohler, Protectionist wasted no time in regaining his old swagger. He brings a perfect three-for-three seasonal mark, and significantly for his Canadian International prospects, he’s still got the gears for 1 1/2 miles. Protectionist regained his title in the Hansa-Preis and outclassed them in a tactical Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) on August 14.

Dartmouth, a son of Dubawi like Erupt, is a “typical Sir Michael Stoute improver.” That well-worn phrase aptly sums up Stoute’s penchant for nurturing late-developing prospects, bringing them along gradually in handicaps, and unleashing them at a higher level. The royal colorbearer has hit new heights as a four-year-old, opening the season with a hat trick in the John Porter (G3), Ormonde (G3), and Hardwicke (G2) over a less-than-cranked Highland Reel. The tables were turned next time in the King George, and Highland Reel stole the show under a crafty front-running ride. Dartmouth performed creditably in the circumstances to rally for third.

Stoute already had Woodbine circled on the calendar, with a potential Breeders’ Cup bid lurking, and accordingly gave Dartmouth a holiday. In his prep in the September 17 Legacy Cup (hitherto the mislabeled “Arc Trial”) (G3) at Newbury, Dartmouth was second to the capable three-year-old Algometer. He likely got just what he needed out of that tightener, and he’ll be primed to give Stoute his third straight Canadian International trophy after Hillstar (2014) and Cannock Chase (2015).

Erupt ranked among the leading French sophomores of 2015 by virtue of his Grand Prix de Paris score. But the Niarchos Family homebred was also useful fifth in the Arc and a close sixth in the Japan Cup (G1). Things just haven’t gone right for him this term, however, and his best result was a second in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1).

Yet Erupt’s form may be better than it appears at first glance. When fifth to Highland Reel in the King George, he was in the hunt before being outkicked late. Perhaps he would have preferred a different pace set-up. Last time out in the Grand Prix de Deauville (G2), he stalked a middling pace and couldn’t catch loose-on-the-lead Savoir Vivre. That result took on added significance in the Arc, where Deauville runner-up Siljan’s Saga ran an unexpectedly good fourth. Woodbine could be just the type of venue for a horse of his back class to spring to life, especially on a quick surface, for emerging young trainer Francis-Henry Graffard.

Idaho, Highland Reel’s three-year-old full brother, is due for a Grade/Group 1 coup eventually in the wake of a series of high-class efforts. Third in the Epsom Derby (G1) after maybe moving a shade too early, Idaho came much closer to Harzand when a half-length second in the Irish Derby (G1). He was simply too good for them in the Great Voltigeur (G2) at York, dispatching his foes in last-to-first fashion to cement his early favoritism for the St Leger (G1).

Idaho’s price continued to contract for that Doncaster classic, and he left the gate as the 4-6 favorite. His supporters had reason to feel confident as the St Leger unfolded, especially as he appeared to be cantering all over them at the top of the long straight. Then, with a sudden stumble, he lost his balance and unseated Seamie Heffernan. It’s one of those unknowables, but considering the way he was traveling, and the fact that the unheralded Harbour Law won at 22-1, you’ve got to think Idaho was bitterly unlucky. At least he escaped unscathed and fit to seek compensation. O’Brien’s last Canadian International winner, Joshua Tree (2010), was exiting a fifth in the St Leger, and Ballingarry (2002) was third in the Irish equivalent, so there’s precedent for a Ballydoyle sophomore cutting back in trip successfully for this race.

O’Brien and Stoute also have contenders in line for the E.P. Taylor (G1) in recent Blandford (G2) runner-up Best in the World and York listed winner Diploma, respectively. The 1 1/4-mile prize for distaffers is attracting plenty of international interest as well, with Roger Varian’s Nezwaah, second to high-class So Mi Dar at Yarmouth; John Gosden’s Swiss Range, who’s underperformed in her two European Group 1 tries; French-based Aim to Please and Banzari, each coming off Group 3 wins; and Parvaneh, heroine of a German Group 2 “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).

As far as North American contestants are concerned, Woodbine lists Al’s Gal; Rainha Da Bateria and Guapaza from the Chad Brown barn; Suffused and Tuttipaesi for Bill Mott; Strut the Course; and Uchenna.

Probables for the six-furlong Nearctic (G2) are Calgary Cat, Conquest Enforcer, Expected Ruler, Full Mast, Passion for Action, Springhouse, Stacked Deck, Summation Time, and one international in Mick Channon’s mare, Divine.