English Illusion looks to give local connections International headlines
To dream the possible dream? The connections of English Illusion, a five-year-old Ontario-bred son of English Channel, have answered that question with a spot in the starting gate for the Grade 1, $800,000 Pattison Canadian International, on Saturday, Oct. 13 at Woodbine.
Owned by 4U Thoroughbred Racing Stable Inc. and trained by Woodbine-based conditioner Sylvain Pion, the four-time winner from 27 starts heads into the International in top form, having won the OLG Halton Stakes on August 29 and finishing third in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes on September 15.
What’s English Illusion’s biggest claim to fame to date? He was an astute $45,000 claim by Pion on August 5.
“I like my distance horses,” noted Pion. “And he’s a good horse. I paid attention to him when he came over to the paddock. The main thing that I was thinking about was the Turf Endurance Series (a four-leg grass series with expanding distances, contested at Woodbine). I have Artistico – who leads the Series – and I thought if anyone else is going to come and beat him, it could be English Illusion. We could have gone there and he would have been an all-star, but we had the Halton.”
In the Halton, contested at ‘about’ 1 ½-miles on the Toronto oval’s E.P. Taylor Turf Course, English Illusion, at 8-1, won by 1 ½-lengths in 2:29.72 over ‘good’ ground.
With the victory, the chestnut gelding changed his career path.
“After that race, everything went out the window with thoughts of the Endurance Series,” said Pion with a laugh. “There was no more discussion about that. It didn’t feel like a losing situation. I was very fortunate. He came from a great barn, a Hall of Fame trainer (Dan Vella) and good people who take great care of their horses. Sometimes it’s a change of scenery that helps. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
With a solid third-place effort to Johnny Bear – who’ll also race in the International – in the Northern Dancer, English Illusion will now step up again, squaring off against accomplished rivals from North America and Europe.
Pion, in the midst of a career year, knows his horse will be a longshot on October 13. He also knows his outsider will be ready for the challenge.
“He’s coming into the race in really good shape or else I wouldn’t be going,” said the trainer, who has eight wins, six seconds and three thirds from 42 starts in 2018. “He’s training well. I know the competition will be a lot tougher than the last one (Northern Dancer), but we’re going into this knowing he’s in good order. He’s earned the right to face these horses.
“I know there are some very good horses, but this is his home turf. They’re going to have to run to beat him. He’s no slouch.”
Rafael Hernandez, second in the Woodbine rider standings with 124 wins, will be aboard for the International.
European star Thundering Blue sets out to conquer Pattison Canadian International
A five-year-old son of Exchange Rate, Thundering Blue has both Group 2 and Group 3 crowns to his name. In less than 10 days, the Kentucky-bred will look to lower the boom on the competition and earn his first Grade 1 victory in the $800,000 Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine Racetrack.
Trained by David Menuisier for Mr. Clive Washbourn, the grey, who will venture to Canada for the first time, has produced four consecutive strong performances.
Two starts ago, Thundering Blue eked out a neck nod in the Group 2 Sky Bet York Stakes on July 28.
Runner-up in the John Smith’s Cup over the same course and distance two weeks prior, he went one better to give Menuisier his first Group winner.
“His Group 2 win at York was magical as it was his first attempt in a pattern race,” he noted. “He spent the whole of his career in handicaps. He went from a below average handicapper to a very talented one in the space of 12 months, giving us the feeling he was a pattern-class horse. The Group 2 win confirmed what we thought of him.”
Menuisier was taken aback by the York triumph.
“I can’t believe it,” he said after the race. “I’m still in shock. He’s now five, but he just keeps improving and improving. We were very unlucky here last time, so this is our revenge. He takes every yard of that trip to come and win, but there’s something about York that he loves, so why not (run in the Juddmonte)?”
Dismissed at 50-1 in the Group 1 Juddmonte, contested at 1 5/16-miles at York, Thundering Blue, under Fran Berry, finished third to Roaring Lion.
“The real pinnacle was to finish in the frame against a regal opposition, beating the winners of the 2000 Guineas, Dubai World Cup, Dubai Duty Free, Irish Derby and St James’s Palace Stakes,” offered Menuisier.
On September 23, Berry and ‘Blue’ teamed to take the 12-furlong, Group 3 Stockholm Cup at Bro Park in Sweden by two lengths.
Now, the six-time winner from 20 starts will venture across the pond and onto the International scene.
Menuisier is eager to see how his charge fares on the world-renowned E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
“I have never been to Woodbine before, but I have spoken to a few experts about the course and everybody tells me it is a very European-like turf course with a decent final straight, so I am looking forward to being there and see it with my own eyes. It should suit Thundering Blue as he has been so versatile so far winning races at Epsom, Newmarket, Sandown, York and Bro Park – five tracks that are all drastically so different.”
Berry, aboard for Thundering Blue’s last four starts, gets the call for the International.
Menuisier will arrive at Woodbine on October 10, two days after Thundering Blue takes up residence on the Toronto oval backstretch.
Early Look At The Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International (13)
Horse – Owner – Trainer – Jockey
Arklow – Donegal Racing, Bulger, Joseph and Coneway, Peter – Brad H. Cox – TBA
Bandua – Calumet Farm – Jack Sisterson – Adam Beschizza
Desert Encounter (IRE) – Abdulla Al Mansoori – David Simcock – Harry Bentley
English Illusion – 4U Thoroughbred Racing Stable Inc. – Sylvain Pion – Rafael Hernandez
Focus Group – Klaravich Stables & William H. Lawrence – Chad C. Brown – Jose Ortiz
Funtastic – Three Chimneys Farm – Chad C. Brown – John Velazquez
Johnny Bear – Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables, Ltd. – Ashlee Brnjas – Luis Contreras
Khan (GER) – Darius Racing – Hank Grewe – Clement Lecoeuvre
Markitoff – Three Diamonds Farm – Michael J. Maker – TBA
Mekhtaal (GB) – Al Shaqab Racing – H. Graham Motion – Alan Garcia
Spring Quality – Augustin Stable – H. Graham Motion – Edgar Prado
Thundering Blue – Clive Washbourn – David Menuisier – Fran Berry
Tiz a Slam – Chiefswood Stable – Roger L. Attfield – Steve Bahen
Early Look At The Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes (9)
Horse – Owner – Trainer – Jockey
Elysea’s World (IRE) – Sheep Pond Partners and All Pro Racing LLC – Chad C. Brown – Joe Bravo
Golden Legend (FR) – Mrs. Henri Devin – H.F. Devin – TBA
Pollara (IRE) – Peter M. Brant and Allen Stable Inc. – Chad C. Brown – Irad Ortiz Jr.
Proctor’s Ledge – Patricia L. Moseley – Brendan P. Walsh – John Velazquez
Santa Monica (GB) – Mrs. John Magnier, Madaket Stables LLC and Deron Pearson – Chad C. Brown – Jose Ortiz
Sheikha Reika (FR) – Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum – Roger Varian – TBA
Sky Full of Stars (GER) – Gestut Karlshof – Hank Grewe – TBA
Starship Jubilee – Soli Mehta and Kevin Attard – Kevin Attard – Luis Contreras
Summer Luck – Gary Barber – Mark E. Casse – TBA