March 4, 2024

Nations Pride relentless in Canadian International; Fev Rover rolls in E.P. Taylor

Nation's Pride at Woodbine in the Canadian Internationa
Nations Pride justified favoritism in the Canadian International (Photo courtesy of Michael Burns Photography)

The $550,964 Canadian International (G1) resumed from a one-year hiatus on Sunday, and Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby provided a sense of continuity at Woodbine. Having sent out the most recent winner in 2021, Walton Street, the global operation furnished another in 2-5 favorite Nations Pride.

In the $560,476 E.P. Taylor (G1), stablemate With the Moonlight played second fiddle to local celebrity Fev Rover. Saratoga shipper Big Invasion lived up to his name in a wild finish to the $192,434 Nearctic (G2).

Canadian International (G1)

Nations Pride was a familiar presence stateside last season, winning two-thirds of New York’s Turf Triple – the Saratoga Derby (G1) and Jockey Club Derby (G3) – after a frustrating loss in the Belmont Derby (G1). Fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) to conclude the year, the Teofilo colt focused on targets in his presumptive 1 1/4-mile wheelhouse campaign. Thus the revamped Canadian International, trimmed from its former 1 1/2-mile distance, became an attractive spot to lure him back across the Atlantic.

Hoping for firm ground as in his previous North American starts, Nations Pride instead found a yielding course that had just been downgraded. He handled soft going in his latest venture at Munich, where he posted a front-running victory in the July 30 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen (G1). At Woodbine, however, he had to hunt down a fellow British shipper, Royal Champion, who tried to use the same tactic against him.

Royal Champion poached a daylight lead under an inspired ride by James Doyle. More or less three lengths clear through splits of :25.42, :50.07, and 1:14.80, the winner of Royal Ascot’s Wolferton S. retained a full head of steam swinging into the stretch.

Nations Pride, second throughout the early going, began to chip away at the deficit. But Royal Champion was still a length up in midstretch, and favorite backers had to be wondering if he could pick up enough, in less than ideal conditions.

Even Appleby was feeling some level of concern.

“James on the lead horse there, he knows his fractions,” Appleby said of Doyle, who often picks up spare rides for Godolphin. “If there was one person I wouldn’t have been quite so comfortable with, it was James on the front end. He’s dangerous out there. Turning in, I thought he’s got us.”

With regular rider William Buick aboard, Nations Pride gamely stuck to his pursuit. His persistence was rewarded as he ultimately outlasted Royal Champion and galloped 2 1/4 lengths clear in 2:03.65.

“I knew with Nations Pride I had a pretty good horse,” Buick said, “so it’s just about getting everything right. The track was a bit of a concern, the yielding surface, but he really showed how versatile he is and he’s a high-class horse.”

“To be fair to William,” Appleby said, “he had confidence in the horse. The ground unfortunately turning to yielding just took his finishing speed off him. William said his class got him through in the end.”

The top two were in a battle of their own, with a 7 1/4-length gap back to Chad Brown’s Adhamo in a one-paced third. Palazzi was the only contender to improve position significantly, advancing from last into fourth. English Conqueror, Starting Over, British Royalty, and Dynadrive rounded out the strung-out field.

Nations Pride sports a mark of 14-9-2-1 with about $2.5 million in earnings. The Irish homebred was a European classic hopeful who romped in the 2022 Newmarket S., but didn’t enjoy the Epsom experience when eighth in the Derby (G1). After his productive U.S. tour of duty, Nations Pride resurfaced at the Dubai Carnival and reverted to 1 1/4 miles to capture the Feb. 17 Dubai Millennium (G3). A further cutback for the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night resulted in a solid third, but he preferred an extra furlong, and he got it when next seen in Germany.

Given the Godolphin team’s desire to keep Nations Pride at this distance, the Nov. 17 Bahrain International Trophy (G2) is on the agenda.

“We’ll stick with plan A,” Appleby said. “We won’t go to the Breeders’ Cup. We don’t think he stretches out that mile and a half, so we’ll take him to Bahrain, and then contemplate if Hong Kong might suit him. But our immediate target will be the Bahrain Trophy.”

Nations Pride is out of the stakes-winning Oasis Dream mare Important Time. Second dam Satwa Queen, the 2007 Prix de l’Opera (G1) heroine, is also the ancestress of multiple Group 1 scorer Lucky Vega and current Australian celebrity Militarize, now a three-time Group 1 winner after the Golden Rose (G1).

E.P. Taylor (G1)

Tracy Farmer’s Fev Rover bounced back to form in the E.P. Taylor, setting herself up for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).

The Mark Casse mare had been at the top of her game over the summer, with a stunning upset of Canadian Horse of the Year Moira in the July 1 Nassau (G2), a close third in the Diana (G1), and a Grade 1 breakthrough in the Beverly D. (G1). But a lackluster fourth behind a resurgent Moira in the Sept. 9 Canadian (G2) caused bettors to underestimate her on Sunday, and she went off as the 4.05-1 third choice.

Reunited with Beverly D. rider Javier Castellano, Fev Rover went forward from her rail post to set fractions of :25.66 and :50.29, on a course that was still clinging to a “good” designation. She was hounded by the 50-1 Rocky Sky, so Castellano executed a strategic withdrawal. He eased Fev Rover back into third, in preparation to switch outside and re-engage.

Rocky Sky inherited the lead through six furlongs in 1:14.30, only to beat a retreat once headed by Skims swinging for home. By that point, Fev Rover was revving up to accost Skims on the outside, and she regained command. Moira loomed wider out, flanking With the Moonlight, but their bids plateaued. Fev Rover kept pouring it on to score by 2 1/4 lengths while negotiating 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.20.

With the Moonlight had 1 3/4 lengths to spare over Moira, who was the beaten favorite in this race for the second straight year. In last fall’s edition, Moira crossed the wire a near-miss second after a brutal trip, but got demoted to eighth for interference. The rain might have undercut her this time.

Skims held fourth, followed by Kalifornia Queen, Aspen Grove, Amazing Grace, Atomic Blonde, Consumer Spending, and Rocky Sky.

Fev Rover, who was promoted to third in last year’s E.P. Taylor, has compiled a record of 19-6-4-3, $1,277,345. Initially based in Great Britain with Richard Fahey, the bay won the 2020 Prix du Calvados (G2) and the Star S. at Sandown, placed second in the Duchess of Cambridge (G2), and finished fourth as a hampered favorite in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) on Arc Day. Third to Mother Earth and Saffron Beach when reappearing in the 1000 Guineas (G1), Fev Rover was runner-up versus older male Real Appeal in the 2021 Boomerang Mile (aka Solonaway) (G2) during the Irish Champions Festival and fourth on the stretch-out in the Bahrain Trophy.

Farmer purchased Fev Rover for approximately $975,092 at Tattersalls December and transferred her to Casse. Her 2022 campaign was limited to three starts, but useful, as she won the Canadian and placed in the Dance Smartly (G2) and E.P. Taylor.

Bred by Manister House Stud in Ireland, Fev Rover is by the Dark Angel stallion Gutaifan. She is a half-sister to Slovak champion Ryony, both produced by Laurelita, a High Chaparral mare from the family of mother-and-son Grade 1 winners Light Jig and Seek Again.

Nearctic (G2)

Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Big Invasion came out on top of a cavalry charge in the six-furlong Nearctic, where the first eight finishers were separated by less than a length. Cross-entered to Saturday’s Belmont Turf Sprint that was rained off the turf, the Christophe Clement trainee made the most of this alternative engagement to earn his first Grade 2 laurel.

Big Invasion ranked as the lukewarm 3.80-1 favorite, based on his solid resume with six career stakes wins and close runner-up efforts in the June 10 Jaipur (G1) and Sept. 2 Harvey Pack S. In between those placings, he had put in an appearance in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot, winding up 13th on a straightaway. Big Invasion’s comeback run at Saratoga put him spot-on, but the Nearctic proved to be pretty chaotic.

The table was set by Masen, eager off the year-long absence, who vied with Remuda through an opening quarter in :22.32. That was a ferocious pace in yielding conditions, and both paid the price. Masen lasted a bit longer, reaching the half in :45.53, but tired deeper in the stretch.

The 104-1 Rockcrest was the first to take advantage, pouncing from his stalking spot to threaten a gigantic upset. Then the closers descended.

Big Invasion, who had been well placed in midpack by Dylan Davis, steadily overhauled Rockcrest and got just enough of a head start on those charging hard from further back. The son of Declaration of War had his head in front of Lucky Score, the fast finisher on the rail, in a time of 1:11.31, with Ice Chocolat and the wide Dhabab surging as the third and fourth in the line-abreast photo.

Dream Shake was another head away in fifth, edging Rockcrest. Oceanic and War Bomber were part of the bunched-up finish, while there was daylight back to Masen, County Final, Jazz Hands, Last American Exit, and Remuda.

Big Invasion’s seventh stakes tally advanced his resume to 14-8-3-1, $784,119. Five of those stakes victories came during his 2022 sophomore campaign – the Quick Call (G3), Mahony S., Texas Glitter S., William Walker S., and Paradise Creek S. Sidelined after his third in last fall’s Franklin-Simpson (G2), he returned triumphant in the March 18 Silks Run S. at Gulfstream Park.

Bred by John O’Meara in Kentucky, the $72,000 Keeneland September yearling is out of the Curlin mare Curls in Place. This is the extended family of champion Nest, who was a subdued fourth in Sunday’s Spinster (G1), and Lost Ark, victorious in Saturday’s off-the-turf Jockey Club Derby.