10/18/2007 11:00PM

Euros hold tiny edge in big race

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - A talented European contingent headed by Ask and Quijano tops a diverse field of 12 and will help make Sunday's 70th running of the $2omillion Canadian International one of the most appealing betting races of the Woodbine meeting.

The Grade 1 International is the feature on a blockbuster card that includes two other stakes, the Gradeo1 E.P. Taylor and the Grade 2 Nearctic.

The 1 1/2-mile event begins directly in front of the grandstand, and will encompass exactly one lap around the European-style turf course, which should have some give to it after some rain earlier in the week.

Ask rallied to win the Group 3 Cumberland Lodge Stakes over 1 1/2 miles three weeks ago at Ascot for trainer Michael Stoute, who won the 1996 International with Singspiel.

"It was a tougher Group 3 than usual," said Stoute. "He was impressive. I was very pleased with him. He's a quality horse, and he's progressed very well. He doesn't mind soft ground at all."

The crack German runner Quijano has won 12 of his last 14 starts, dating back to the spring of 2006. He's coming off a thrilling victory in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden, from which the fourth-place runner, Youmzain, came back to finish second in the prestigious Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Ilke Hildebrand, an assistant to trainer Peter Schiergen, said Quijano has trained encouragingly over the turf here this week.

"He likes this track," said Hildebrand. "It's not so deep as it is in Germany."

Irish Wells won the Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville over soft ground for the second year in a row on Aug. 26.

Oracle West prepped for the International with a narrow loss in a Sept. 22 allowance in England. He was second in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, a $5 million race run last March in Dubai.

Honolulu, a listed stakes winner in England, was a prominent third behind Ask when favored in the Sept. 30 Cumberland Lodge.

Oracle West and Honolulu are both making their first start with Lasix.

Sky Conqueror was crowned the champion turf horse in Canada in 2006. He overcame an awkward break to win the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic with a powerful wide rally in May, and won the Grade 2 Northern Dancer BC Turf Stakes with authority here July 22.

But Sky Conqueror's last two efforts were subpar, and he appears to be over the top. He was probably best in last year's International, but wound up third after getting stuck in traffic in the stretch.

"We were in the 1-hole, and I believe the [trouble] started coming into the first turn, when he got pinched right out," said trainer Darwin Banach. "Otherwise, he would have been laying a lot closer to the pace, and may not have had those problems in the lane. He had to play catch-up the whole way."

American shippers Sunriver, Stream of Gold, and Cloudy's Knight are contenders.

The Todd Pletcher-trained Sunriver figures to set the pace. He was narrowly beaten last out in the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont.

Stream of Gold, formerly based in England, finished second in each of his two most recent races, most notably in the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational.

Cloudy's Knight, based in Chicago with trainer Frank Kirby, outran Sky Conqueror when second to front-running Last Answer in the Grade 2 Nijinsky Stakes here in August. He won the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes after a four-wide stalking trip here Sept. 23.

"He always seems to run well over [Woodbine's turf]," said Kirby. "The first time, [Last Answer] got so far in front, that he couldn't catch him. The last time, it was a different race. I thought he beat some pretty nice horses."

A third start in Canada this year will make Cloudy's Knight eligible for a Sovereign Award as a Canadian champion.

Windward Islands, one of two 3-year-olds in the field along with Honolulu, was a late-closing third in the 1 3/8-mile Sky Classic.

"He ran a hell of a race in the Sky Classic," said trainer Mark Frostad. "He came out of it great. It's a big task, but we think he deserves a shot."

Post time for the first of 11 races is 1 p.m.