Technically there are just two European invaders in the Canadian International, Aidan O’Brien’s Idaho and Ralph Beckett’s Chemical Charge, but defending champion Erupt is a recent émigré. So we’ll include him in the discussion too.
If Idaho has yet to run up to his best in his two North American ventures, I believe that’s more a function of his trips around the track than an inability to travel abroad. The hypothesis can be tested once he finally has the right set-up over here.
His trek for last year’s Canadian International smacked of an afterthought. In his prior race in the St Leger (G1), Idaho looked like galloping home as the odds-on favorite, only to stumble and unseat his rider in a rueful what-might-have-been. Seeking compensation versus older horses at Woodbine, he was too far back off a pedestrian pace, simply didn’t have the gears to catch up from that position, but still tried to lift and offered a mild rally for fifth.
Idaho had the opposite problem in the August 26 Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga, where he got into an early pace battle with the 31-1 longest shot on the board, Frank Conversation, and paid for it by fading to sixth.
Neither effort is indicative of his European class. While not at the level of full brother Highland Reel, Idaho owns the best formlines in this race, particularly through his third in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot back on July 29. Not only did he place behind the streaking filly Enable and the outstanding Ulysses, but he took advantage of the rain-softened conditions to defeat a floundering Highland Reel. That’s instructive considering Woodbine’s turf will have at least some ease in it Sunday.
It’s true that Idaho has been a Group 1 bridesmaid, with placings in last summer’s Derby (G1) and Irish Derby (G1), and his victories so far have come at the Group 2 level in the Great Voltigeur (G2) at three and the Hardwicke (G2) this June at Royal Ascot (beating Chemical Charge, below). His recent eighth to Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), where he led early as a 25-1 shot, did nothing to elevate his status. Yet that matches the profile of a horse who can find his elusive top-level laurel abroad – classy enough to have an edge elsewhere if not quite reaching the Group 1 podium at home.
Should Idaho finally achieve that top-level distinction Sunday, he would simultaneously give O’Brien a milestone. Depending upon how Rain Goddess fares in the E.P. Taylor (G1), an Idaho win would either lift O’Brien into a record-equaling 25th Grade/Group 1 win of the season, or break Bobby Frankel’s mark with a new all-time high of 26.
Erupt, now with Graham Motion, did manage to snare the 2015 Grand Prix de Paris (G1) to cap a four-race winning spree at the start of his career. But since then, he’s been unable to find the winner’s circle – except at Woodbine last October. The 2016 Canadian International unfolded just the way Erupt would have scripted it, with a sit-sprint race shape that showcased his superior acceleration on firm turf.
There might not be much pace on in Sunday’s renewal either, but the ground won’t be as firm. If it stays somewhere in the range of “good,” Erupt can get away with it. Still, the forecast adds another variable for a horse trying to get back in form.
Previously trained by Francis-Henri Graffard, the Niarchos homebred has occasionally run some fine races in defeat. He was beaten fewer than four lengths when fifth to Golden Horn and Flintshire in the 2015 Arc, finished a strong second to Silverwave in the 2016 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1), and opened 2017 with a most promising fourth to Cloth of Stars (the eventual Arc runner-up) in the Prix Ganay (G1) at a trip short of his best.
The Group 1 Prix Ganay goes the way of Cloth Of Stars who just holds off the challenge from Zarak in the closing stages: pic.twitter.com/naESXOr1Vi
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) May 1, 2017
Nothing’s gone right since. Tailed off in when trying the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud again on July 2, Erupt too ventured to Saratoga for the Sword Dancer, with as little luck as Idaho. The addition of cheekpieces seemed a good idea to sharpen his focus, but it backfired when he was rank early. Erupt frittered away his energy and wound up fifth.
Now Erupt takes a page from the playbook of the Niarchos Family’s 2014 champion turf horse and older male Main Sequence, and joins Motion in hopes of reviving his fortunes in North America. Motion is already prescribing two key remedies for the son of Dubawi: ditching the cheekpieces and incorporating Lasix.
Chemical Charge is the least accomplished of the Europeans, but for that very reason you’ll get a better price on a talented horse entering his Grade 1 bow on the upswing. By Sea the Stars and from the all-star family of A.P. Indy, he won both of his starts as a juvenile in the manner of a very promising prospect. Then Chemical Charge was shelved by a knee injury and didn’t resurface until he turned four in 2016.
Switched to trainer Ger Lyons for his comeback, the Qatar Racing runner finished second in all three of his Irish appearances last summer in the Silver, International (G3), and Lenebane. Chemical Charge reunited with Beckett last fall, again settling for the runner-up spot in the Wild Flower over Kempton’s Polytrack and in the Prix Max Sicard at Toulouse.
Once the calendar turned to 2017, Chemical Charge was ready to up his game, and started off with a 12-furlong conditions score at Doncaster. Just denied in a solid edition of the John Porter (G3) at Newbury, he experimented with a visor in the Aston Park (G3) over the same course and distance and threw in the worst race of his life in a remote last.
Chemical Charge took off the headgear for the Hardwicke and finished third to Idaho. Traffic in the stretch made for a less than ideal passage, but probably didn’t affect the result. On a strict reading of form, he has some ground to make up on Idaho here.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) June 24, 2017
But it’s quite likely that Chemical Charge has improved in the interim. After a confidence-boosting conditions race at Musselburgh, he broke through with his first stakes victory in the September (G3) back at Kempton. Don’t judge by the narrow margin – it wouldn’t have been that close if he’d found daylight sooner. Altering course and coming around the leading trio, he picked up on the proverbial dime.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) September 9, 2017
Note that fourth-placer Danehill Kodiac has since captured Ascot’s Cumberland Lodge (G3), overturning Andre Fabre’s hotpot Waldgeist and Godolphin’s Secret Number. Considering that Waldgeist had missed by a head in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby ) (G1) and finished fourth in the Irish Derby, that is not a bad little form boost.