09/15/2016 12:36PM

Sizing up the Europeans invading for Woodbine Mile card

Michael Burns
Mutakayeff trains at Woodbine on Thursday ahead of the Woodbine Mile.

Five European shippers have come to Woodbine to contest three graded turf stakes Saturday: three for the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, one for the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes, and one for the Grade 1 Northern Dancer. The brightest star among them appears to be Mutakayyef, the morning-line second choice behind Tepin in the Woodbine Mile, but let’s take a look at all of the overseas runners who will try to make their mark Saturday.

Woodbine Mile

Mutakayyef is an odd duck. There aren’t too many 5-year-old geldings in England who threaten to be top-class runners, but Mutakayyef, gelded after his 2015 campaign, could be just that. He showed talent all along, first fully announced when he finished second in the 2014 Tercentenary Stakes behind Cannock Chase, who would win the 2015 Canadian International, and in front of Postponed, who has grown into one of the best 10- to 12-furlong grass horses in the world.

Mutakayyef got a late start to his 2015 campaign, which basically went nowhere, but has really come around through a three-start 2016 season. Mutakayyef’s win two back in the Group 2 Summer Mile over the decent but less-than-elite Dutch Connection was solid, but it was his third last out in the Group 1 International at York that suggests that if things really go right, he could take down Tepin in the Mile.

Postponed had missed an intended start and probably wasn’t at his best that day, but Mutakayyef really might have beat him had Postponed not pushed Mutakayyef down into the fence in the late stages, denying him a clear path to the wire. In North America, Postponed would have been disqualified, but English judges rarely take down a horse if it means placing first a runner who was never going to win, which would have been the case in the International.

Mutakayyef cuts back from 10 to eight furlongs, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue. He has run well racing left-handed and has come to North America hoping it doesn’t rain. Trainer William Haggas is a rare participant on these shores, having gone just 0-1-0 from two lifetime North American starters.

A year ago, Arod would have looked like a major player in the Mile, but he has not been the same horse since traveling to Australia for the Cox Plate last fall. After two poor runs to start his 2016 European season, he improved considerably, finishing third behind Lightning Spear – third in Tepin’s Queen Anne Stakes win – in the Group 2 Celebration Mile. He races on Lasix, which is noteworthy, and his second to the mighty Solow last summer says he’s inherently good enough to pull an upset if things go his way.

This would mark the most important win of his career, but Mr. Owen cannot be entirely dismissed either. He ran well below form two back at soggy Ascot, suggesting the yielding course over which he was sixth last year in the Woodbine Mile did not suit him, and his best form on firmer going doesn’t preclude at least a high placing. Last out, he was second to Vadamos, who came right back to win the Group 1 Prix du Moulin last weekend at Chantilly. Put him somewhere on your tickets if the course stays dry.

:: WOODBINE MILE: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live

Northern Dancer Turf

Majeed is trained by David Simcock, who has found plenty of recent success at Woodbine with the miler Trade Storm and the 12-furlong horse Sheikhzayedroad, who won this race in 2014. Majeed, though, has form well below Sheikhzayedroad’s. He gets Lasix for the first time, but his fruitless campaign last winter in Dubai, a closer relation to North American turf racing than one finds in Europe, suggests the 6-year-old won’t magically improve under these circumstances.

Canadian Stakes

Steip Amach is a rare winner – just 1 for 17 in the last two calendar years and 2 for 21 overall – but she appears to have at least marginally improved this year and will like a good-to-firm course. She has only recently been stretched beyond one mile, but she stayed decently over 10 furlongs last out in the Group 1 Romanet (which wasn’t especially strong this year) and will get the 1 1/8 miles here. An unlikely winner, but can be placed.