Canadian International scouting reports: Walton Street, Desert Encounter
European shippers have won nine of the last 10 editions of the Canadian International S. (G1), with the only outlier Bullards Alley (2017) over a soft Woodbine course. Joshua Tree alone captured three editions, and two-time defending champ Desert Encounter will try to match that record Saturday.
Unlike Joshua Tree, who was six years old when he completed his hat trick, Desert Encounter is at a much more advanced (nine). If he is not quite at the heights from his 2019 repeat, he can still put up a fight for the astute David Simcock, whose runners excel at Woodbine.
Godolphin’s Walton Street is only two years younger, but he feels like a fresher face, given his relatively few miles on the clock. The Charlie Appleby pupil has raced just 18 times, compared to Desert Encounter’s 46 starts.
Another point of contrast is running style. While Desert Encounter is the classic closer, Walton Street prefers to race on or near the pace.
Walton Street is by Cape Cross — sire of the great Sea the Stars, Golden Horn, and globetrotting celebrity Ouija Board — out of the Australian-bred Brom Felinity.
His dam excelled with maturity. She scored her signature win in the about 1 1/4-mile Matriarch S. (G2) as a five-year-old. By the outstanding sire Encosta de Lago, Brom Felinity is a full sister to Delago Brom, winner of the 2003 Australian Guineas (G1) over a metric mile. Their dam, Group 2 scorer Brompton Cross, is also the ancestress of 2018 Hong Kong Derby winner Ping Hai Star.
A British Darley homebred, Walton Street has taken time to come to hand. Gelded as a juvenile, he didn’t make it to the races until midsummer of his three-year-old season, but he showed promise.
He won his first two starts in 2017 and continued his education at the 2018 Dubai Carnival, where he scored in his third try. Walton Street carried his form back to Britain that summer to place third in a Royal Ascot handicap and in his Group debut, the Geoffrey Freer S. (G3).
Although he made just five starts in 2019-2020, Walton Street continued to perform well at around 1 1/2 miles. He was runner-up in both outings in the summer of 2019, the Fred Archer S. at Newmarket and the Prix de Reux (G3) at Deauville, where he nearly wired the field.
After a 13-month absence, Walton Street returned with a close second in a Lingfield conditions race that set him up for his first stakes coup, in the Godolphin S. at Newmarket. He attended pace, still on the bridle as he struck the front, and kept galloping to finish in 2:28.07.
Walton Street was not seen again until the 2021 Dubai Carnival, but the seven-year-old was poised to peak. The frontrunner broke the about 1 1/2-mile course record in the Jan. 21 Dubai Racing Club Classic, a listed handicap, when he romped by five lengths, in 2:26.83.
“He is lightly raced for his age, and he really felt like (he) had a lot of zest there,” said jockey William Buick. “Tonight he really seemed to enjoy himself in in front, I was just a bit worried at a couple of stages, that we might be doing too much, but he was in his comfort zone, and he finished up really good.”
“He is not our fastest, classiest, horse by a long way,” Appleby said, “But he has guts and loves it here at Meydan, so we might freshen him up for Super Saturday and have a crack at the City of Gold (G2).”
Walton Street did more than take a swing at the Dubai City of Gold. He hit it out of the park and equaled his own course mark. Off a beat slow, he reverted to stalk-and-pounce mode.
That warranted a class hike for the Mar. 27 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night. The difference of competition was night and day, as he faced the deepest field of his career and finished a creditable fourth.
With a stalking trip behind American champion Channel Maker, Walton Street tackled him to take a brief lead in upper stretch. But he couldn’t hang with the likes of Mishriff, Chrono Genesis, and Loves Only You. He was beaten 3 1/2 lengths by the superb Mishriff, who eclipsed his course record in 2:26.65. Japanese distaffers Chrono Genesis and Loves Only You are world-class and have beaten males in major Group 1s. Chrono Genesis is bound for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1), and Loves Only You is set for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
After his productive UAE sojourn, Walton Street enjoyed a break until the Aug. 8 Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1). He led but tired to third, behind Alpinista (who finished second to Love in last year’s Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks) and German Horse of the Year Torquator Tasso (who came right back to win the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden).
Walton Street has taken the same Berlin-to-Woodbine path as past Appleby trainees Old Persian (2019) and Hawkbill (2017), although they came for the Northern Dancer Turf S. (G1) that used to be around this time. Both placed in Germany and did better in Canada, as Old Persian won handily and Hawkbill missed by a nose.
While Walton Street doesn’t have their overall résumé, he is in career form and has mixed it up with heavyweights. Just the type to run up to his best in Woodbine’s conditions, he picks up Frankie Dettori.
Buick’s comments after the City of Gold sum him up well:
He hasn’t quite got the same profile as Hawkbill or Old Persian had when they won this race. This horse has a lot to live up to reach those heights, but he has a lot going for him.
He is in really good form at the moment and is a very straightforward, honest horse. He ticks a lot of boxes. He races in a nice rhythm and is an ideal staying horse to ride. You can put him anywhere and, instead of a turn of foot, he gradually goes through the gears. You have to give him a bit of time to build into it but, once he changes his leads and gets on his off-fore, he goes.
Very familiar to Woodbine fans, as a two-time winner, Desert Encounter was covered in the 2018 and 2019 scouting reports. Now we need to catch up on what the nine-year-old has been up to since his last trip to Woodbine.
Unfortunately, Desert Encounter hasn’t won since, but he has continued to pay his way with several stakes placings.
He collected five minor awards in 2020, including a third in the Princess of Wales’s S. (G2), behind Dame Malliot (who later placed behind Tarnawa and Wonderful Tonight in France). He was also runner-up to the high-class Elarqam in Newbury’s Legacy Cup (G3). That Newbury race is a fixture on Desert Encounter’s schedule, with a third in 2018 and a victory in 2019. Also last fall, Desert Encounter was beaten only a half-length by the feast-or-famine Euchen Glen in the Cumberland Lodge S. (G3).
Desert Encounter exceeded expectations in his 2021 debut, a second-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Gordon Richards S. (G3) at Sandown. The second-longest shot on the board, at 40-1, he rallied from last to finish a clear second, behind the highly regarded Waldkonig. The useful Hukum was left behind in fourth. Although Hukum needs farther, you could make the same point about Desert Encounter, which underscores the merit of his effort.
Desert Encounter filled the runner-up spot over the same trip in the May 22 Festival S. at Goodwood, where he chased another old stager, Stormy Antarctic (who way back in 2018 was the third-place finisher in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile).
His fifth in the June 16 Prince of Wales’s was better than it looked, since Desert Encounter historically has been well beaten in that Royal Ascot feature. He finished last, behind Poet’s Word (2018) and Crystal Ocean (2019) before his wins at Woodbine. In that context, his finish 4 1/2 lengths behind Love and Audarya isn’t bad.
Ten days later, in the Fred Archer S. at Newmarket, Desert Encounter reared at the start. Perhaps that took him out of sync, because he wound up a remote fourth.
The key to his hopes for a three-peat in the Canadian International is his ensuing start at Windsor. In both 2018 and 2019, Desert Encounter won over that track on the way to Woodbine, in the August S. and Winter Hill S. (G3), respectively. With the Canadian International then staged in October, he had to make his aforementioned stop at Newbury in September.
Although he was a handily beaten second in the August S. last time out, the form has since taken on new importance. The August winner was Teona, who just stunned heavily favored Snowfall in Sunday’s Prix Vermeille (G1). When Teona outkicked Desert Encounter at Windsor, she clocked the about 1 7/16 miles in 2:23.92, slightly faster than the course standard, according to Racing Post.
Add TEONA to the list of @Tattersalls1766 sold Stakes winners. ✔️— GBRI (@GBRI_UK) August 28, 2021
She triumphs in the Listed August stakes at @WindsorRaces. The @varianstable trained 3yo filly was consigned by the @WatershipStud and bought by Hugo Merry Bloodstock at the 2019 Book 1.pic.twitter.com/wfOADE6YlL
Aside from showing that he has retained much of his old ability, Desert Encounter had the competitive attitude to will his way past Fox Tal, who tried to keep him bottled up. That can carry him a long way in a Canadian International that isn’t as deep as it has been in the past. The biggest danger is his fellow European, Walton Street.