10/12/2012 2:41PM

Hovdey: International one trophy missing in Attfield's case


Welcome to this year’s badgering of the legendary Roger Attfield over when in the name of all things Canadian is he going to finally win the dominion’s premier event for older Thoroughbreds, these days referred to as the Pattison Canadian International.

For incentive, as if Attfield needs it, there is a purse of 1.5 million Canadian dollars offered in Sunday’s running of the International at Woodbine. This week that is worth about $1,530,000 south of the border, or about 19.7 million pesos south of the other border. For those travelling north, the single Canadian dollar is offered only in coins, upon which is engraved a loon.

Since 1958, when the International was first run on grass, the race has been at either a mile and five-eighths or its current mile and one-half. Among the noteworthy winners have been George Royal, Drumtop, Droll Role, Exceller, Dahlia, All Along, Singspiel and ol’ what’s his name, that big red horse. Right – Secretariat.

Attfield has been trying to join a winning list of trainers that includes Hall of Famers Harry Trotsek, John Gaver Sr., Horatio Luro, Lucien Laurin, Tommy Kelly, Mack Miller, Scotty Schulhofer, Angel Penna, Bill Mott, Neil Drysdale, and Bobby Frankel, not to mention Aidan O’Brien, Henry Cecil, Andre Fabre, and Michael Stoute from Ireland, England, France, and Barbados.

It’s not as if he hasn’t tried. Last year, Attfield threw two horses at the International and managed a sixth with his old battler Musketier over very yielding ground. By way of compensation for yet another frustrating renewal, Attfield won the E.P. Taylor Stakes on the same day with Miss Keller at 11-1, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf three weeks later with Perfect Shirl at 27-1, and then was elected to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame the following spring.

All well and good, but still no International.

“Guess we’ve got to step up a little,” said Attfield, an eight-time winner of the Queen’s Plate, winner of seven Sovereign Awards, and trainer of Canadian Triple Crown champions With Approval, Izvestia, and Peteski.

The fact that there is an “up” from Attfield’s level is reassuring. Keeps the rest of us striving ever onward. If Attfield is going to finally win the International on Sunday, he will be doing it with a 6-year-old gelding from England by the name of Forte Dei Marmi, who had been flying quietly beneath the radar until he won the mile-and-a-quarter Sky Classic Stakes at Woodbine in August, then came back with a very good third in the mile-and-a-half Northern Dancer Turf Stakes there on Sept. 16. Luca Cumani trained Forte Dei Marmi in England.

“He ran in the Woodbine Mile last year right off the plane,” Attfield said. “We looked after him here, but he was very lackadaisical in his training, very off the bridle. I wasn’t sure if he should even run, but then I really didn’t know him. But in the end he didn’t actually run a bad race.”

Forte Dei Marmi finished 10th in that version of the Mile, five lengths behind victorious Turallure.

“I took him to Florida, where we spent quite a bit of time and got to know him a little better,” the trainer continued. “He trains a lot more forwardly than he did, though he’s still very relaxed in his races early. But he’s got a big kick when everything’s going right for him.”

Everything wasn’t in the Northern Dancer.

“He ran a very good race that day,” Attfield noted. “Maybe good enough to win.”

Instead, coming from last behind a slow pace, Forte Dei Marmi had to wait behind horses on the turn, alter course in the upper stretch to shift inside, then angle back to the outside by Alex Solis to at long last get a clean run. He was beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Wigmore Hall and Al Khali, both coming right back for the International.

Among the invaders Sunday will be Joshua Tree, third most recently to Arc de Triomphe runner-up Orfevre, as well as Reliable Man, a bang-up fourth to Danedream in the summer, and Imperial Monarch, lightly raced winner of the Grand Prix de Paris.

“The longer stretch at Woodbine suits him,” said Attfield, who has replaced Solis aboard Forte Dei Marmi with John Velazquez. “But then the Europeans like it as well, since that’s where they do all their running.”

Attfield, 73, insists that life as a Hall of Fame trainer has not appreciably changed since his installation in August.

“In fact, I’m lighter on horses this year than I have been in about 20 years,” he said. “A number of different owners dissolved partnerships, and people I expected to have young horses didn’t have any. But life goes on. We’ll put another stable together over the winter.”

The destabilizing effect of the Canadian government’s waffling over its traditional commitment to Thoroughbred racing hasn’t helped. At one point Attfield and his fellow horsemen were facing a dire future, although recent developments have offered a slim ray of hope that the government will relent.

“I feel a lot more positive now than I did,” Attfield said. “But we’re still guessing what might end up happening. That makes it difficult for people who might otherwise be buying horses. And our breeders just don’t know what to do. Everybody’s been affected.”

Given the climate, win or lose on Sunday Attfield will be just as pleased to see the International run again next year with the political situation resolved and racing back on a steady course.

“It’s all very unfortunate, but I’m sure we will overcome,” he said. “As an old north country English trainer once said to me, ‘Son, if you thought it was going to be easy, you should have stayed home with mother.’ ”