10/20/2003 12:00AM

Dwyer, Phoenix Reach reunite at right time


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Phoenix Reach had been no match for Brian Boru when the pair met last time out in the St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster, England, on Sept. 13.

Brian Boru was a 1 1/4-length winner there as the favorite, while Phoenix Reach was beaten a total of 2 3/4 lengths while third.

But the circumstances were much different Sunday at Woodbine, and so was the result as Phoenix Reach won the Grade 1 Canadian International while Brian Boru, again the favorite, finished third.

For one thing, Phoenix Reach had blossomed physically in the weeks following the St. Leger, which was just his fourth career start.

Also, trainer Andrew Balding said, the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Canadian International was probably more to the liking of Phoenix Reach than the 1 13/16 miles of the St. Leger.

Last, but not least, was the brilliant ride contributed by 28-year-old Martin Dwyer, who arrived here late Saturday night after winning the Group 3 Jockey Club Cup earlier that day at Newmarket aboard the 10-year-old Persian Punch.

Dwyer kept his cool when Phoenix Reach was overly eager in the early stages and got him to settle without an undue struggle.

That left Phoenix Reach in a perfect position to take charge and he had plenty left to fend off the late charges of Macaw and Brian Boru, and won by three-quarters of a length.

Dwyer had ridden Phoenix Reach just once before in competition, when the colt won his maiden in his seasonal bow this summer.

The jockey rode against Phoenix Reach in his next two outings, as he opted for High Accolade, who is trained by Marcus Tregoning, another of his regular clients. High Accolade finished second on both those occasions, behind Phoenix Reach in the Gordon Stakes but ahead of him in the St. Leger.

But in the meantime, Dwyer had kept in touch with Phoenix Reach and their reunion here was a happy one.

"I know the horse inside out," said Dwyer. "I worked him a couple of days before he came over; I worked him with the visor on."

Phoenix Reach had trained with a visor - blinkers - but was racing with the equipment for the first time Sunday after his connections felt he might have lacked focus at times in the St. Leger.

But, after watching Phoenix Reach take flight immediately after the start of the International, Balding was having second thoughts about the change.

"I thought it could have been his undoing," said Balding. "I'll think twice about doing it again. But, he still raced in snatches."

Phoenix Reach was scheduled to leave for his trainer's base in Kingsclere, England, on Wednesday and will not see action again this season.

Although it's a long way off, Balding said Phoenix Reach's schedule certainly could include a return visit to the Canadian International.

Phoenix Reach's success also was a testament to the patience of Balding and owner Andrew Christou, who races as Winterbeck Manor Stud.

After finishing second in his only start as a 2-year-old in June 2002, Phoenix Reach suffered a fractured pastern and did not return to action until this July 3.

"Six months ago he had a plate and three pins in his leg," said Balding. "I honestly didn't think he'd race again. It's been a long, slow painful process."

Balding said swimming was the salvation of Phoenix Reach, who turned to that form of exercise while recovering from his leg injury.

"Without the swimming pool, he'd never have made the track again," said Balding. "He's quite a big colt, and we had to get the weight off him."

Brian Boru was facing a virtually impossible task in the International, attempting to rally from last place. But he underlined his quality by closing strongly to be beaten just a head for the runner-up spot.

"I thought he ran very well, on what he showed," said assistant trainer T.J. Comerford. "He's still a decent horse; don't doubt that."

Brian Boru will be heading back to Ireland on Wednesday and the plan calls for him to race again next year at 4.

Sabiango, who finished fifth in the Canadian International, was slated to return to his German base on Tuesday. Gruntled, seventh in the International, also was to head back to France on Tuesday, via Frankfurt.

Ballingarry recovering from infection

Ballingarry, scratched from Sunday's Canadian International after coming down with a bacterial infection in his right hind hock, was recuperating at the nearby University of Guelph's veterinary clinic Monday morning.

"He's doing very well," said trainer Laura de Seroux, from her California base. "They had to flush it to relieve the effusion and treat it with antibiotics. The procedure went well, and we're confident that he'll be fine."

Ballingarry, who had won last year's Canadian International prior to being sold to a group including de Seroux and her husband, Emmanuel, arrived at Woodbine last Wednesday and was the 4-1 morning-line second choice for the Canadian International.

Assistant trainer Brian Lynch, who accompanied Ballingarry to Woodbine, discovered the problem Saturday morning and informed de Seroux when she checked in prior to her scheduled departure for Toronto.