10/17/2014 11:48AM

Suntracer brings Block back north for Canadian International

Barbara D. Livingston
Suntracer comes into the Canadian International off a win in the Kentucky Cup Turf.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Chris Block has sent just 10 starters to Woodbine throughout his 25-year training career but has fond memories of the track from 2011, when Never Retreat was named Canadian Horse of the Year.

“We had no clue when we left Chicago that she’d have a chance for Horse of the Year,” he said. “My dad and I were pleasantly surprised and very proud. That mare was something special. That was a lot of fun that year.”

Never Retreat captured the Grade 2 Dance Smartly Stakes and the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes at Woodbine in 2011, finished second in the Grade 2 Nassau Stakes, and was named Canadian champion turf female. Block will look to continue his success at Woodbine when he sends out Suntracer for Team Block in Sunday’s Grade 1, $1 million Canadian International.

Block, 47, who is based in Illinois, got his start in the industry in 1986, working for Bill Mott during the summer at Canterbury Park while studying equine management at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Just two years later, he took out his trainer’s license in Kentucky and began training for his father, David Block, who had owned horses since Chris Block was a child.

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“I owe my career to [my parents], I really do,” Chris Block said. “They are what made me be able to get my name out there. They put good horses in my hands and got me started. I think without them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”

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At full capacity, Block’s stable reached 53 horses over the summer, including 21 under the family colors of Team Block.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my working relationship with my dad,” Block said. “He never gets in my way on how to train them. We have our disagreements, but I think that’s what makes us good at what we do.”

With more than 1,000 career winners, Block has had many memorable horses over the years. La Fab was Block’s first winner in 1990. Ioya was a foundation mare for Team Block, and her third foal, Mystery Giver, became Team Block’s first graded stakes winner and first millionaire. Vacare was Block’s first Grade 1 winner when she captured the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in 2006. Giant Oak won multiple Grade 1 races in 2011 and ran in two Breeders’ Cup Marathons. Suntracer could add his name to the list with a win in the Canadian International.

The 6-year-old Suntracer is coming into Sunday’s race off a win in the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 13, his first graded stakes victory and his first trip to the winner’s circle in almost two years. Suntracer improved dramatically that day from his previous start, a ninth-place finish in the American St. Leger at Arlington.

“He trained really well in between [the American St. Leger] and the race at Kentucky Downs,” Block said. “He fired in a big way, and he was overdue for something like that. I was real proud of him that day.”

Suntracer’s career was almost derailed after he sustained an injury shortly after turning 4. In 2012, Block had sent Suntracer to trainer Neil Pessin at Fair Grounds, where he almost lost an eye during a race.

“We think he got hit by a rock. I’m not sure what,” Block said. “It took about 30 days of treatment to get the eye back. Neil was very diligent in working with it. When we thought he was fully recovered from that, he ran almost like he was timid.”

With the team looking to improve Suntracer’s form, David Block suggested adding a bubble blinker to see if it would help restore the horse’s confidence.

“It seemed to work,” Chris Block said. “I’m not so sure he needs them anymore, but we’re not willing to experiment by taking them off.”

The Canadian International will be Suntracer’s second career test against Grade 1 company. He was eighth in the Grade 1 Secretariat as a 3-year-old in 2011. Nevertheless, his trainer believes Suntracer can be competitive at this level.

“We’re looking forward to [the race],” Block said. “I think if he gets some luck on his side, he can be very strong in a lot of these bigger races. We know it’s going to be a really solid field there, but we think he deserves a chance against that kind.”