Idaho’s early favorite in vintage renewal of Canadian International

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October 13th, 2016

European shippers have captured the past six runnings of the Canadian International (G1), and that may soon become seven thanks to a formidable foursome on the scene at Woodbine. With invaders the caliber of Idaho, Protectionist, Dartmouth, and Erupt ready to prolong the trend, it’s no wonder that they rank as the top four on the morning line for Sunday’s C$1 million renewal.

Yet the North American team isn’t lacking in depth either. Fan favorite The Pizza Man, the Chad Brown-trained Wake Forest, and World Approval from the Mark Casse barn all bring Grade 1 credentials to bear, making the 2016 Canadian International a fascinating contest.

In the circumstances, Idaho strikes me as a tad short as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. To be sure, the Aidan O’Brien trainee has a lot going for him: full brother to high-class globetrotter Highland Reel, classic-placed in both the Epsom and Irish Derby (G1), a smart turn of foot on display in the Great Voltigeur (G2), the likely St Leger (G1) winner if he doesn’t take a bad step in the stretch. At the same time, Idaho is a three-year-old taking on elders for the first time, and a pretty salty group at that. On the plus side, he gets a weight break and Ryan Moore in the saddle.

Protectionist is best remembered as the winner of the 2014 Melbourne Cup (G1), but the German celebrity isn’t lacking in pace over 12 furlongs. Indeed, he’s coming off a pair of major wins at this trip for Andreas Wohler. And in a race without a committed front runner, it’s worth noting that he just wired the August 14 Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) under a well-judged ride by Eduardo Pedroza. The 3-1 second choice gets Pedroza’s services again [Friday change: picks up Andrea Atzeni] as he seeks to remain unbeaten this season.

Dartmouth, who handed The Queen a Royal Ascot victory in the Hardwicke (G2), will try to become the third consecutive Canadian International winner trained by Sir Michael Stoute. He’s arguably facing an overall stronger cast than preceding winners Cannock Chase (2015) and Hillstar (2014), but the blueblood son of Dubawi is reaching the peak of his powers too. Dartmouth traded decisions with Highland Reel at Ascot before taking a break ahead of his fall campaign, and Stoute will have the 7-2 chance primed in his second start back. New rider William Buick may place the tactically adaptable colt in touch with the leaders if the pace unfolds as expected.

Erupt would probably prefer an honest tempo throughout, but given his turn of foot, perhaps he won’t mind as long as the ground remains on the firm side. Trained by Francis-Henri Graffard for the Niarchos Family, the Dubawi colt displayed high class last season when taking the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) and finishing fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) and sixth in the Japan Cup (G1). Despite his winless 2016, Erupt still has that talent, and I think he just needs the right circumstances to fall into place. Regular rider Stephane Pasquier maintains the partnership on the 6-1 shot.

See this backgrounder for more details on the international quartet.

The Pizza Man’s odds figure to contract from his 8-1 morning line, especially after the popular Illinois-bred regained the winning thread in the September 17 Northern Dancer Turf (G1) at this course and distance. Last year’s Arlington Million (G1) and Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) hero had endured an uncharacteristic 2016 until then. But The Pizza Man began to turn the corner with a flying sixth in his title defense at Arlington two starts back. The rider change to Flavien Prat was the last piece of the puzzle. Prat put The Pizza Man in better early position, and he duly outkicked Wake Forest and World Approval. Considering that the Canadian International pace likely won’t be much faster than the Northern Dancer’s crawl, The Pizza Man projects a similar trip – but with even more talented foes in the hunt.

Wake Forest, formerly trained by Wohler, now meets his erstwhile stablemate Protectionist over a distance that would have favored the latter in Germany. Indeed, Wake Forest never attempted 1 1/2 miles until he remained stateside with Brown. Both times, in the April 2 Pan American (G2) and the Northern Dancer Turf, Wake Forest missed narrowly. His terrific late kick was best deployed to earn a Grade 1 breakthrough in the 1 3/8-mile Man o War (G1) back in May. A slow start proved costly when he could get no closer than third to World Approval in the July 3 United Nations (G1), and despite his subpar 10th in the Arlington Million (G1), I still wonder if Wake Forest’s ideal trip isn’t 10-11 furlongs. He can answer this question definitively, if new rider Javier Castellano coaxes a little more from him.

World Approval set the pace on sufferance in the Northern Dancer Turf, but couldn’t steal his first try at this trip and got caught by a half-length in third. Unless Protectionist or someone else is determined to seize the initiative, the Casse trainee may find himself doing the front-running chores again. Like Wake Forest, World Approval didn’t put his best foot forward in the Arlington Million, his lone unplaced effort of the season. Otherwise, World Approval has been performing consistently at a high level, including his near-miss in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) and third to Flintshire and Ironicus in the Manhattan (G1) prior to his UN coup.

Local hope Danish Dynaformer is accomplished at the track and trip, having dominated last year’s Breeders’ Stakes and added the July 3 Singspiel (G3). And he’s not far off a Grade 1 placing, with a solid sixth in the Woodford Reserve and a close fifth in the Arlington Million at distances well short of his best. The royally bred son of Dynaformer couldn’t land a blow in this race as a three-year-old in 2015, but he’s a more mature specimen this time. His fifth in the Northern Dancer Turf could be cause for concern in light of a similar pace scenario, except for one thing – he gets a rider switch to Joel Rosario. If Danish Dynaformer doesn’t leave himself too much to do, he’ll have a better chance of giving Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield an overdue first win in the Canadian International.

Rounding out the field is the audaciously placed Taghleeb, who won the September 25 Remington Green in his second start off the claim for Mike Maker. The Shadwell-bred by Hard Spun has yet to tackle this distance, let alone this level of competition. The Maker angle is his main talking point, along with jockey Florent Geroux, who used to ride The Pizza Man.

Idaho photo courtesy of WEG/Michael Burns Photography via Woodbine Racing on Twitter

Coming up next: a preview of the EP Taylor on the Canadian International undercard.

Play for 2 Million Points Canadian International Day:  If you like turf racing over a sweeping European-style turf course, Woodbine is the track to play this Sunday on Twinspires. Plus, you can compete for an extra 2 Million TSC Elite Points while you’re at it.

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