10/14/2010 12:16PM

Distinct French twist at Woodbine

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Michael Burns
Lahaleeb, William Buick up, wins the 2009 E.P. Taylor.

Woodbine will look like Longchamp West on Saturday, as 15 of the 28 horses lining up for the three Grade 1 races on Canadian International Day are trained in Europe.

The E.P. Taylor Stakes resembles division 2 of the Prix de l’Opera, with eight of the 10 females in the 1 1/4-mile contest trained in Europe, and it is the Oct. 3 running of the Opera that may hold the key to the E.P. Taylor outcome.

The Opera was won by Lily of the Valley, who wore down four-time Group 1 winner Stacelita in winning for the sixth time in a row. In her previous start, Lily of the Valley had won Deauville’s 1 1/4-mile, Group 3 Prix de la Nonette. Three of the five fillies who finished behind her that day will line up for the E.P. Taylor.

Contredanse is the best of them. Like Stacelita in the Opera, she couldn’t quite hold on to her lead in the Nonette, being caught on the line to lose by just a head. Fifth behind Midday and Stacelita in the Group 1 Nassau Stakes, Contredanse, a daughter of Danehill Dancer trained by Luca Cumani, had previously landed the 1 3/8-mile, Group 2 Italian Oaks, and she is the confident selection.

Maiden winner Silver Grey may have been flattered when she ran ourth in the Nonette, as she has failed versus lesser since, while the Nonette’s sixth-place finisher, Gallic Star, appears overmatched. A clue to Contredanse’s chances could be found in the performance of Zagora in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, as Zagora finished a head behind Contredanse when third in the Nonette.

Lahaleeb sprung a 44-1 surprise in last year’s Taylor coming off a series of unplaced efforts. Since switched from Michael Channon to Paul d’Arcy, she has been off form all year and stands little chance of repeating. Pacahattack, a two-time listed winner in England this summer, was a so-so sixth in Arlington’s Beverly D. A similar effort is expected on Saturday.

Discounting French fillies in races like this is foolhardy, and there are three of them that must be considered. At her best, the Aga Khan-owned Shalanaya, winner of last year’s Prix de l’Opera, would be the pick, but she has disappointed since. Well beaten in her last two against better than she is facing on Saturday, she can land a place, especially as she is on first-time Lasix. Akarlina and Reggane recently finished one-two when beating males in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 3 La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte and neither would be a surprise in what promises to be a hotly fought contest.

Canadian International

The Barry Hills-trained Redwood well merits his 2-1 favoritism in the Canadian International. Although he had to work hard to win the Northern Dancer Turf over the course and distance on Sept. 19, he stays 12 furlongs on any type of ground. He was paid a modest complement when Marinous, who beat him into second in the Grand Prix de Deauville, finished sixth in the Arc.

French raider and frequent North American flyer Chinchon is something of an enigma. Based on his stunning victory in the United Nations at Monmouth Park, he rates a favorite’s chance here, but Chinchon, a 5-year-old trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias, was a dull sixth in the Arc older-horse prep, the Prix Foy. That effort looked better when the Foy runner-up, Nakayama Festa, finished a head second in the Arc. Chinchon really needs firm ground to do his best and could thrive if the rain stays away.

Before winning a Group 3, 1 1/2-mile race in Sweden last time, Mores Wells’ most recent wins had been in allowance company. Joshua Tree, however, is one to keep an eye on. While he has yet to fulfill the potential he showed winning last fall’s Royal Lodge Stakes, he has been competitive in two recent tries against similar to what he will be facing on Saturday. A lightly raced son of Montjeu trained by Aidan O’Brien, he has a license to improve.

 

Nearctic Stakes

 

Balthazaar’s Gift has the best chance of the three Europeans in the six-furlong Nearctic Stakes. His trainer, Clive Cox, is having a career season with Gilt Edge Girl, having won the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp two weeks ago. Balthazaar’s Gift is coming off a win in the Group 2 Park Stakes at his favorite distance of seven furlongs, but he is a Group 3 winner going six furlongs at Ascot and should be flying late.

 

It is difficult to size up his opposition as a lot of it is either cutting back from a mile or emerging form lesser sprints. Amico Fritz, trained in France by Henri-Alex Pantall, is erratic, winning group races in his native Germany but failing in Group 1 company. Serious Attitude can be discounted off four dull efforts.