Trainer David Simcock, who won the 2014 edition of the Woodbine Mile, goes after a different Grade 1 trophy at the Toronto oval, this time with Desert Encounter in the Pattison Canadian International.
Four years ago, Simcock watched Trade Storm take top honours in the turf Mile at Woodbine. His day proved to be twice as nice when another trainee, Sheikhzayedroad, won the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf, earlier in the card.
On Saturday, his fortunes lie on the hooves of Desert Encounter, a seven-time winner that will make his first-ever start on Canadian turf.
Owned by Abudalla Al Mansoori, the Irish-bred has one win, a second and a third in three of his past four starts, as he sets course towards the International.
In 22 lifetime races, the six-year-old Halling gelding has seven wins, four seconds and five thirds. This season, he has one win, a second and a pair of thirds from seven starts.
“All his life, he has been a consistent horse,” said Simcock. “He was a late developer and only had two runs at two and he was lightly raced at three.”
This August, the Tally-Ho Stud-bred bay won the Sri Lanka August Stakes at Windsor, a 1 ¾-length victor in the 1 7/16-mile race. In his most recent start, Desert Encounter was third, but only a half-length out of first, in the Grade 3 Dubai Duty Free Legacy Cup at Newbury on September 22. One year earlier, he won the race, a neck ahead of Second Step in the 1 3/8-mile event.
“He has run some good races in the right grade, had a couple of tough assignments early in the season,” said Simcock. “He has run two very good races in his last two starts.”
Simcock sees the E.P. Taylor Turf Course as a perfect match for Desert Encounter.
“Woodbine is a flat, fair track and similar to European style courses, which is obviously a benefit for us,” he offered. “Desert Encounter is a kind horse. He is very straightforward to deal with.”
Jockey Andrea Atzeni will be in the irons for the International, as Desert Encounter looks to become the first six-year-old to win the race since Joshua Tree accomplished the feat in 2013.
Pattison Canadian International contender Desert Encounter at Woodbine Racetrack, Michael Burns Photo
Spring Quality ready to rebound in Pattison Canadian International
Spring Quality comes into the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International off his lowest finish to date. But trainer Graham Motion, who also sends out Mekhtaal in the 1 ½-mile fall classic, has faith his Grade 1 champ will be back at the top of his game on Saturday.
A son of Quality Road, Spring Quality has certainly shown some spring in his step over a 13-race career that has produced six wins, three seconds, a third and close to $1 million in purse earnings.
In his last start, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, on September 29, the bay gelding finished an uncharacteristic seventh.
“He ran very disappointingly, over what was extremely soft ground,” offered Motion. “I don’t think he handled it at all. He had never run on ground like that. My inclination is to run him in this race. I kind of geared his whole season towards the fall. He’s pretty lightly raced, which makes me feel comfortable running him back fairly quickly.”
Spring Quality netted his first Grade 1 score this June, winning the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes, at Belmont. Last November, the bay was victorious in the Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap, contested at Aqueduct.
Owned by Augustin Stable, the six-year-old will look to add another graded crown to his race record.
“I have no explanation for he ran the way he did in the Joe Hirsch,” said Motion. “It’s the only bad race he’s ever run in his life. He seems to have come out of it absolutely fine. Edgar (U.S. Hall of Fame jockey, Prado) said he kind of wrapped up on him after a mile because he just wasn’t handling it. He asked him to go on with the favourite and he just couldn’t quicken on that kind of turf – he just bogged down.”
Motion, who is crossing his fingers that the rain stays away in the lead-up to the International, has high praise for Spring Quality.
“He’s a very nice horse,” said the conditioner. “He’s always been very consistent, and he always goes out there and tries. I feel very fortunate to have two very good horses coming to Canada to be in this race.”
Prado, who this year became the eighth North American rider to reach 7,000 career wins, will once again get the call. Prado and Motion are both seeking their first International victories.