10/16/2007 11:00PM

Beware of Euros in International

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - Questions abound regarding the $2 million Canadian International, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that will be run for the 70th time at Woodbine Sunday.

What's wrong with Sky Conqueror? Will the Chicago-based Cloudy's Knight add to his solid Woodbine form? Will the late-blooming Windward Islands have an impact? How good are the other foreign invaders, especially the ones from Europe?

Sky Conqueror, Canada's reigning champion turf horse, was hailed as one of the leading grass runners on the continent after he captured the Grade 2 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes with ease here July 22. It was just another feather in the cap for the 5-year-old, who overcame a stumbling start and won the Gradeo1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in May.

However, Sky Conqueror was a flat third behind Last Answer and Cloudy's Knight in the Grade 2 Nijinsky Stakes here Aug. 26, and was a never a factor last time out in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile. Few expected him to have much of an impact traveling a distance shorter than his optimum in the Woodbine Mile, but the fact that he passed only a handful of tiring runners in the stretch, while switching leads three times, suggests that he's past his peak.

Cloudy's Knight won the Grade 2, 1o3/8-mile Sky Classic, a local prep for the Grade 1 International. He ran 65 feet farther than the runner-up in that race, according to Trakus, a wireless horse tracking system used at Woodbine. Before that, he nosed out Sky Conqueror for second in the 1 1/2-mile Nijinsky, and has really taken a shine to the E.P. Taylor course, which encircles the Polytrack. A large gelding, Cloudy's Knight can handle any type of footing and is versatile in terms of running style.

Windward Islands was a fast-closing third in the Sky Classic, after finishing a non-threatening fourth in the Nijinsky. As a 3-year-old, he will carry 119 pounds, 7 fewer than the older runners in the field.

Windward Islands's connections, owner Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad, won the 1997 International with Chief Bearhart. The last Woodbine-based runner to win the race was Thornfield in 1999.

New York shippers Sunriver and Stream of Gold are both in with a shot.

Sunriver earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in each of his four most recent starts, including a victory in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park. Most recently, he was beaten a head by Doctor Dino when second in the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes.

Sunriver will likely set the pace. Only the 1998 winner, Royal Anthem, has led at every call in the International since it was moved to the turf in 1958.

Stream of Gold finished second in both of his North American starts this year, most notably behind English Channel in the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational.

The quality European contingent is headed by Ask, Irish Wells, Quijano, and Oracle West.

Ask is coming off two consecutive scores in Group 3 company in England, including in the 1 1/2-mile Cumberland Lodge Stakes.

Irish Wells, a close sixth in the 2006 French Derby, won the Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville over soft ground in his last outing.

Quijano has won 5 of 7 outings this year. He's exiting a victory in the prestigious Grosser Preis von Baden, a Group 1 in Germany in which he carried a hefty 132 pounds.

Oracle West, a well-traveled 6-year-old, ran second in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in March.

European runners have dominated the International since 1997, with a record of 7 wins, 3 seconds, and 8 thirds from 37 starters, and an average win payoff of $10.90. Those statistics are hard to ignore, and perhaps the best way to play the International would be to focus on the Euros who offer the best value.

The rock-steady Cloudy's Knight is an interesting alternative. His familiarity with this unique course is a plus, and his low-profile connections - jockey Ramsey Zimmerman and trainer Frank Kirby - should help to ensure a square price.