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Collier Hill's travels not over yet
ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Collier Hill certainly had the most intriguing background of any contestant in last Sunday's Grade 1 Canadian International here at Woodbine.
A gelding who was the senior member of the field at age 8, Collier Hill had raced in England, Scotland, Ireland Germany, Sweden, and the United Emirates in a 43-start career, which also included several races over hurdles.
And that experience undoubtedly came in quite handy as Collier Hill toughed it out for a nose victory over Go Deputy over 1 1/2 miles of soft turf in the Canadian International.
Despite coming into the Canadian International as a Group 1 winner and the top money-earner in the field with $1.95 million, Collier Hill was sent off at odds of 10.75-1.
Much of the reason for the neglect was the fact that Collier Hills connections, 51-year-old trainer Alan Swinbank and 46-year-old jockey Dean McKeown, are relative unknowns on the international front and were, in fact, making their North American debuts in the Canadian International.
"I know this horse very well; I've been riding him for two years," said McKeown, who took over as Collier Hill's regular rider during the winter of 2005 in Dubai.
"It's amazing he's come this far. He's an 8-year-old gelding with dodgy joints."
Collier Hill suffers from arthritis, which is a condition common to many racehorses of his age, and requires careful handling.
To that end, McKeown checked into Woodbine last Wednesday to guide Collier Hill through his final preparations for the Canadian International over the increasingly softening turf course.
"His best form has been on firm ground," said McKeown, who had ridden Collier Hill to a second-place finish in this year's Grade 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, in what was the biggest previous payday for both horse and rider prior to Sunday. "But the fact was that the soft ground here was going to be against other runners, and he was going to handle it better than many of them."
"My horse responds to pressure. When a horse comes to him, he's always going to find a little bit extra."
Russell Hall, whose business is farming and sideline is horseracing, has been an integral part of Collier Hill's ownership since the gelding first stepped onto the racetrack in the winter of 2002, and he was here for the Canadian International.
Hall suggested that Collier Hill might be adding another stamp to his passport next month, as he is under consideration for the 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin on Dec. 10.
"He's an honest, genuine horse," said Hall. "Wherever he goes, he's proud of himself and presents himself as a star."
Other Europeans not so successful
Blue Monday, The Last Drop, and Kastoria were Europe's other three Canadian International starters, and they had less to write home about.
Blue Monday, a 5-year-old gelding who was the fourth choice at 5.70-1, wound up fourth in the field of 10.
"He was always just trying to hold his position, not traveling that well," said Roger Charlton, who trains Blue Monday in England. "I think he might have been showing the effects of a long season, but he's a good horse; he always tries.
"We'll go home, give him a break, and start again next season."
The Last Drop, trained in England by Barry Hills and the only 3-year-old in the lineup, wound up seventh after breaking slowly and racing prominently for about 1 1/4 miles as a 26-1 outsider.
"I thought he gave a good account of himself," said Dick Bonnycastle, a Canadian who is a co-owner of The Last Drop. "The turf was maybe a bit too soft for him.
"Hopefully, we'll be back next year, a year older and a little bit stronger."
Kastoria, a 5-year-old from Ireland who was the only filly or mare in the field, went off as the 2.40-1 favorite but was never in the hunt and finished eighth.
"She didn't like the heavy ground, which was the same thing that happened at York," said assistant trainer Jim O'Neill.
Kastoria, whose only other out-of-the-money finish in 12 career starts came over 1 1/2 miles of soft turf in the Yorkshire Cup this May, is a possibility for the Hong Kong Vase.
Sky Conqueror's runner-up finish bittersweet
The hard-luck story of the Canadian International was Sky Conqueror, who rallied strongly to finish third after being shuffled back on the far turn and being shut off in midstretch.
Sky Conqueror, trained by Darwin Banach for owner-breeder Bill Sorokolit, had entered the Canadian International as one of the strongest locally based candidates in recent years and was seeking his fourth straight win under rider Todd Kabel.
Banach, not surprisingly, had mixed feelings following Sky Conqueror's performance.
"He showed us he can handle Grade 1 horses, which is a step up in the game for him, and he almost overcame a troubled trip," said Banach.
"He came home safe and sound, but he's a bit disappointed in himself. He knows he didn't win; good horses know."
Sky Conqueror is nominated to both the Hong Kong Vase and Japan Cup, and his connections will be weighing those and other options.
Fast Parade possibly Hong Kong-bound, too
Fast Parade could be headed for the Hong Kong Sprint after recording his biggest career victory here in Sunday's $502,800 Nearctic over six furlongs of soft turf.
Fast Parade, a 3-year-old gelding trained by Peter Miller, set a track record in winning the Green Flash at five furlongs on firm turf at Del Mar on Aug. 16. Patrick Valenzuela was aboard for the first time in the Nearctic.
"I think he's probably better on firmer ground, but he just has such a big heart," said Miller, who trains Fast Parade at San Luis Rey Downs in California. "This was his eighth race at his eighth different track."
Fast Parade is owned by Gary Barber and his brother Cecil Barber. Gary Barber also is a part-owner of Becrux, winner of the $1 million Woodbine Mile here Sept. 17 under Valenzuela.
"The horse was well-prepared, and runs well fresh," said Gary Barber of Fast Parade. "We were very confident, even though the going did not suit him."
* Wagering from all sources on Sunday's 11-race program was $5,247,263, a slight decrease from the $5,250,316 handled last year on the same number of races. Handle on the Canadian International was $1,179,558, up from $1,087,107.