10/16/2003 11:00PM

Evaluating the Europeans


The defections of Alamshar and Mubtaker were blows to the Canadian International, but Woodbine's autumn showpiece is still a highly competitive event, as is the accompanying E.P. Taylor Stakes.

Irish Derby and King George winner Alamshar will run instead in Saturday's Champion Stakes at Newmarket, while Arc runner-up Mubtaker is headed for either the Japan Cup or the Hong Kong Vase. In spite of their absence, the Canadian International has as many European trainees as Americans: four. In the E.P. Taylor, European invaders outnumber their American counterparts four to two.

Defending champ Ballingarry may find this year's International somewhat tougher. Not only does he not appear to be quite the same horse under Laura de Seroux as he was last September when trained by Aidan O'Brien, but he will be in a stronger field.

Ballingarry's ex-stablemate Brian Boru looms largest among his 10 rivals. A Sadler's Wells 3-year-old, Brian Boru showed marked improvement when a game second to his stablemate Powerscourt in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, then notched a classic victory with an impressive score in the 1 3/4-mile, 132-yard St. Leger Stakes on Sept. 13.

A half-brother to Moon Search, recent winner of the 1 9/16-mile Group 2 Prix de Royallieu at Longchamp, Brian Boru comes into this year's Canadian International with better recent form than last year's winner, Ballingarry, who was coming off a third in the 1 3/4-mile Irish St. Leger. Brian Boru is an autumn horse who is getting good at just the right time.

He will be closely shadowed by Phoenix Reach, the third-place finisher in this year's St. Leger. Lightly raced, Phoenix Reach has a license to improve and is probably better at 12 furlongs than at the longer distance of the St. Leger, as he showed when he came again to nip subsequent St. Leger runner-up High Accolade in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes in just the third start of his career.

Sabiango should not be ignored, especially in the exotics. A two-time Group 1 winner in Germany going 1 1/2 miles, the 5-year-old Sabiango is trained by Andreas Wohler, who makes a habit of sending out horses who perform well in big international races like this.

Gruntled took advantage of rather weak opposition when he won the Group 3 La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte last time. That race, run over a straight 10 furlongs, bears little resemblance to what Gruntled will face at Woodbine. It will also be his first try beyond 1 1/4 miles.

If Walzerkoenigin's sharp second in the Flower Bowl Handicap, in which she split Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf hopefuls Dimitrova and Heat Haze, is anything to go by, she will win the E.P. Taylor. Trained by Germany's former perennial champion jockey Peter Schiergen, the Kentucky-bred Walzerkoenigin appears to be well spotted for victory. Her tracking speed should stand her in good stead, but Edgar Pardo must be careful not to move too soon in the long 2 1/2-furlong stretch.

Tigertail, trained by Rodolphe Collet, the son of Robert Collet, who has trained two Taylor winners, will be suited by the 10 furlongs, the distance at which she was second by a neck to Rakti in an Italian Group 1 in May. She does not appear to be up to this task, however. Mer de Corail, consistent against lesser all year, showed improvement when taking a listed race last time and is the value play. Hi Dubai missed two days of training this week and was hardly emulating her full brother, Fantastic Light, when unplaced in her last two tries in Group 1 company.