10/13/2017 11:36AM

Hovdey: Flamboyant could join storied history of Canadian International

Michael Burns
California-based Flamboyant has shown promising form heading into Sunday's Canadian International at Woodbine.

Paddy Gallagher has spent the last year and a half trying to get the long-winded Flamboyant back to the level of his effort in the 2016 running of the $6 million Dubai Turf, in which he came within 2 3/4 lengths of becoming the first U.S.-based horse to win the race in 20 agonizing years.

Flamboyant never really looked like a winner that night, but he managed to raise a few heart rates with a stout run down the middle of the home straight and came within a nod of finishing third. His people were rightfully proud.

By now, however, they are justifiably frustrated. It has been more than 20 months since Flamboyant won a race. On Sunday, he will be making his 10th start since Dubai in the Canadian International at Woodbine, sponsored by the Pattison Sign Group and offering a purse of 800,000 Canadian dollars.

Flamboyant earned his trip to Dubai last year by winning the San Gabriel and the San Marcos at Santa Anita, while facing good horses such as Obviously and Bal a Bali. Obviously had yet to win his Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and Bal a Bali was still a year away from becoming a two-time Grade 1 winner in California, but you get the idea.

Now 6, Flamboyant’s form going into the 1 1/2-mile International shows promise. He is fresh, having finished a close third last time out in the Aug. 19 Del Mar Handicap, and he is fast enough, sporting recent Beyer Speed Figures that sit at the top of the nine entered against him.

“He hasn’t been winning, but he’s been running well,” said Paddy Gallagher, Flamboyant’s trainer and chief advocate. “Shipping doesn’t seem to bother him. For that matter, as long as he has his carrots he’s happy.”

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Joel Rosario will ride Flamboyant for owners Chuck Winner and David Bienstock. Those blessed with a good memory will recall that horse and rider last collaborated for a third-place finish behind Mr. Speaker in the 2014 running of the Belmont Derby. They checked twice in the stretch that day and could have been closer, but still third.

“I think this will be my first runner at Woodbine,” Gallagher added. “Let’s hope for a good day on Sunday and he comes running.”

The fine folks at Woodbine are calling this the 80th anniversary of the Canadian International. That’s fine, as long as you are willing to embrace changes in name, distance, surface, and host track along the way.

For purposes of apples-to-apples comparison, the race has looked pretty much the same since 1956, when Horatio Luro won the first of his three Canadian Internationals with the Chilean filly Eugenia II. Luro won the following year with Spinney for California’s Lou R. Rowan, then won the race again in 1971 with John A. Bell’s One for All.

Once a harbinger of champions, the prestige of the International has ridden a roller coaster with the times. When it was a well-endowed part of the autumn turf calendar, Hall of Famers such as Secretariat, Dahlia, Exceller, and All Along added the International to their résumés. The advent of the Breeders’ Cup had a diluting effect, but still there were winners to die for, including Southjet, Sky Classic, Singspiel, and Chief Bearheart.

More recently, the International has turned its appeal wholeheartedly toward European runners who do not have the Breeders’ Cup Turf on their dance cards. This year, Coolmore’s Idaho and Qatar Racing’s Chemical Charge fit the profile, as did Erupt when he won the race last year. Now trained by Graham Motion, Erupt will try to become only the third horse since 1956 to win two straight.

Whatever happens in this 80th running of the International will never be able to match the drama of the 30th, run a half-century ago on Oct. 21, 1967. On that day, the Canadian-bred colt He’s A Smoothie, owned by amusement park entrepreneur Bill Beasley, was narrowly best in a three-horse photo under the Irish ex-pat Sam McComb. From here we’ll let the peerless Toronto Globe & Mail sports writer Beverley Smith take over.

“He’s A Smoothie was born in the midst of a thunderstorm in 1963 in Oakville, Ont.,” Smith wrote in 2003 upon the induction of He’s A Smoothie into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.

“Beasley suffered a stroke in 1960,” Smith continued, “which confined him to a wheelchair and left him speechless for the rest of his life.”

Warren Beasley, the owner’s son, told Smith that, “He’s A Smoothie touched our lives in many ways, but mostly with my father. It gave him a great deal of joy to see the horse that he had been responsible for.”

“In the winner’s circle,” Smith wrote of the International, “He’s a Smoothie walked over to Beasley and put his head in his lap. Beasley patted his nose, and a tear rolled down his cheek. People still talk about that magic winner’s circle photo.”

The story should have ended there. He’s A Smoothie went on to race at 5, winning the Hialeah Turf Cup, but as Bill Beasley’s health deteriorated further, the family decided to sell their horse to California breeder W.T. Pascoe. Before he could take up his second career, however, He’s A Smoothie suffered a fatal injury while trying to win the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga. Beasley died later that same year.

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