10/12/2012 1:20PM

Woodbine: Joshua Tree back to reclaim Canadian International

Michael Burns
Joshua Tree will be looking to capture his second Canadian International on Sunday.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario − Joshua Tree fell short in his defense of the Canadian International last year, but he should have the edge in his return Sunday, when he heads a quality European contingent in the 75th running of the race at Woodbine.

A 1 1/2-mile turf race worth $1.5 million, the International is one of three Grade 1 turf stakes on an 11-race card, along with the $1 million E.P. Taylor and the $500,000 Nearctic. All three are Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races, giving the winners a fees-paid berth into the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Nov. 2-3. The Grade 3 Durham Cup is the fourth stakes on program, which begins at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Joshua Tree heads a quality European contingent, which also includes Imperial Monarch, Reliable Man, Wigmore Hall and Lay Time. Joshua Tree captured the 2010 International and was second last year, beaten four lengths by Sarah Lynx, after taking the long way around.

Trainer Marco Botti said he was content with Joshua Tree’s recent third in the Group 2 Prix Foy at Longchamp on Sept. 16 behind Orfevre, the Japanese star who subsequently lost a heartbreaker as the favorite in the Group 1 Arc de Triomphe.

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“He seems to be coming into his best [form] recently,” Botti said. “I haven’t trained many horses as tough as he is. Every time he comes back after a race, he’s full of life. He loves traveling.”

Other Europeans shipping in for the International include Imperial Monarch, Reliable Man, Wigmore Hall, and Lay Time.

Imperial Monarch has been idle since his victory July 14 in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. He has been pointed toward the International and has been lightly raced because his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, has a host of other good 3-year-olds, such as Camelot, said assistant trainer T.J. Comerford. Imperial Monarch has won three of four starts for O’Brien, who has won the International twice.

Reliable Man was victorious in the Group 1 French Derby in 2011. He was a close fourth behind the imposing trio of Danedream, Nathaniel, and St Nicholas Abbey in the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July at Ascot.

Wigmore Hall captured the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf for the second year in a row under Jamie Spencer here Sept. 16, when he held off favorite Al Khali by a neck. “He’s one of my favorites,” Spencer said. “He tries really hard. I probably got [to the lead] sooner than I wanted to, because he doesn’t do a whole pile when he’s in front.”Wigmore Hall’s trip back to Woodbine this week was his third from across the pond since August, when he was seventh in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Last year’s longshot winner, Sarah Lynx, became the sixth filly or mare to land the International since it was moved to the turf in 1958. Lay Time will try to add her name to the impressive list off a narrow loss against the boys in a Group 3 fixture in England.

The American runners Al Khali, Air Support, and Prince Will I Am will spice up the field.

Al Khali was a troubled fourth in the 2010 International. Trained by Bill Mott, he has the reputation of a win-shy hanger, but jockey Garrett Gomez said that wasn’t the case when he rode Al Khali in the Northern Dancer.

“He traveled beautiful,” Gomez said. “Turning for home, he was waiting to go. I had to tip him out a little earlier than I really wanted to, but he focused and sprinted to the wire. When we first hooked up, [Wigmore Hall] ran away from him, and he fought on. He was just second-best. He’s a horse with a lot of heart.”

Air Support won the Grade 2 Bowling Green in his last start, which came at Belmont for trainer Shug McGaughey.

“He’s had a good year,” McGaughey said. “I think he’s probably a true mile-and-a-half horse.”

Prince Will I Am, a multiple graded stakes winner trained by Canadian-born Michelle Nihei, is making his second start after an extended layoff.

Forte Dei Marmi is the only local horse in the field. Trained by Roger Attfield, Forte Dei Marmi won the Grade 2 Sky Classic in August and was a closing third in the Northern Dancer after altering course off the rail to find room in the final furlong.

“We thought he was the best horse in the Northern Dancer,” said Attfield, who has never won the International.

The International and Taylor will be broadcast on The Score network from 4-6 p.m., and TVG will provide expanded coverage of the card. Post time for the International is 5:44 p.m. Eastern.