10/16/2003 11:00PM

Irish invader a class act


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Brian Boru will try to add his name to an elite list of winning favorites in the Canadian International - which 30 years ago was won by the great Secretariat and 20 years ago by Horse of the Year All Along - when he tops a field of 11 in Sunday's 66th running of the 1 1/2-mile event.

The $1.5 million International heads an excellent 11-race card at Woodbine, which also includes three other stakes: the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor, the Grade 3 Highlander, and the $108,000 Chief Bearhart, named after the 1997 International winner.

Brian Boru is coming off a victory in the Group 1 St. Leger Stakes, going about 1 3/4 miles at Doncaster in England. He has many similarities to last year's International winner, Ballingarry, who like Brian Boru was based in Ireland with trainer Aidan O'Brien and is a son of Sadler's Wells. But O'Brien's assistant T.J. Comerford believes that Brian Boru is a better horse than Ballingarry was in 2002.

"Brian Boru has a bit more class about him than Ballingarry," Comerford said. "He won a classic in his last run, and won it easier than it looks on paper. He was second, beaten a short head, in his run before that, in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York."

The winner of the Great Voltigeur, Powerscourt, noted Comerford, "came out of that race to finish third against older horses in the Irish St. Leger, which Ballingarry finished third in last year."

Ballingarry, who was sold shortly after the 2002 International, is back in an attempt to become to the first winner of two consecutive runnings of the race since George Royal turned the trick in 1965 and 1966. Now based in Southern California with trainer Laura de Seroux, Ballingarry has not accomplished much this year, although he won the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Handicap at Arlington.

The lightly raced Phoenix Reach was recently third in the St. Leger, and he took the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Goodwood in his previous race. "He stayed well and fought gamely last time out," said trainer Andrew Balding. "He had to stop at a vital stage, and that might have stopped him from finishing higher."

Brian Boru and Phoenix Reach are both adding Lasix. European invaders making their first start with Lasix have won the International four times since 1996.

Bowman Mill, who captured the Grade 2 Sky Classic Handicap over soft ground here three weeks ago, is trained by Michael Dickinson, who shipped in longshot Master William to take the Cup and Saucer Stakes for 2-year-olds here last weekend.

Dickinson said that Bowman Mill is at his best over firm turf, and was pleased with the way the horse worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 up an incline on the grass at his Tapeta Farm in Maryland on Monday. "He's in good form," Dickinson said. "He's really improved in his last two races."

On Sunday, Bowman Mill should be tracking a dawdling pace, which will likely be set by Shoal Water, one of two Sam-Son Farm outsiders in the field, along with Portcullis.

New York invader Lunar Sovereign has earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in three of his last five outings. He sprung a 10-1 upset in the Grade 1 Man o' War on Sept. 6, but finished far back most recently, in the Grade 1 Turf Classic.

"The Man o' War was obviously a great run," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We were confident that he would run well again in the Turf Classic, but he displaced his palate."

The other United States runners in the field are Art Variety, an improving Brazilian import trained by Ken McPeek, and Macaw, who has been competing with mixed success in Grade 1 competition for trainer Barclay Tagg.

Rounding out the strong European contingent are Sabiango, a Group 1 winner in his native Germany, who was recently fourth in the Turf Classic for trainer Andreas Wohler, and Gruntled, who won Group 3 event in France last month for trainer John Hammond.

The International will be sponsored for the first time this year by Pattison Outdoor advertising company.