Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International Acclaim: The Race That Brings All The Stars to Woodbine

Woodbine thoroughbred racing may be on winter break but behind the scenes the wheels are turning and churning out plenty of nostalgia for those in need of a pick me up.

Over the past few days the Woodbine Entertainment Group Youtube Channel ~ imaginatively named WEGReplays ~ has been updated with video of the previous ten editions of the Woodbine Mile and Canadian International.

2000 Canadian International won by Mutafaweq with Lonfranco Dettori in the irons

One hopes that this is only the beginning of what could be an immense video library of racing history. Above you can watch footage of Mutafaweq fighting back deep in the stretch to beat Williams News by a nose. I've replayed the final yards of this stretch battle repeatedly and it still appears to me that Patrick Husbands got the long shot home in front. I couldn't believe it when I watched it live and I'm still not sure now.

The International is undoubtedly one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. At its inception in 1938, the race was contested on dirt at a distance of 1 1/6M with the honours going to Bunty Lawless who won the King's Plate in that same year.

By 1958 the race moved to the turf and has seen an unprecedented post parade of stars take the test. Secretariat's last race came against older horses at Woodbine in the Canadian International. "Big Red" did not disappoint coasting to victory by 6 1/2 lengths.

A year later the super filly Dahlia would win the International. This past year, racing fans raved about Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta taking on the boys but they have a ways to go to match the star power of the Nelson Bunker Hunt owned legend. Dahlia won major races in France, England, Ireland and the United States but the International was a race with the drawing power to bring Dahlia to Canada.

What a set of races that must have been for Woodbine patrons. The legend that is Secretariat in 1973 followed by one of the greatest female race horses of all time in 1974. And that's not hyperbole, this is a filly that knocked off Roberto to win the K. George VI & Q. Elizabeth Stakes - a race she won twice in succession.

Dahlia - Super Filly of the 1970s made her mark at Woodbine

You can reel off the names of countless star winners of the International: Youth (1976), All Along (1983) Sky Classic (1991) and just this year we watched the regally bred Champs Elysees retire in style.

As a kid growing up with N. Irish parents, the International was the race my family looked forward to the most. In the days leading up to the event, my dad would check the forecast for rain and crow about the decided edge it would provide the latest Irish shipper.

While we took turns on a Saturday night reading an advance copy of the Daily Racing Form, my dad would regale me with stories of the jockeys from, "back home".

Lurching forward into a crouch and waving his right arm like a windmill in a hurricane, he would extol the virtues of the British jockey who could never lose a photo finish.

Lester Piggot, Walter Swinburn and Pat Eddery all had their picture taken at Woodbine much to my father's delight.

But that's not to say the Brits didn't get their comeuppance either. Sneak a peak at my program below from the 1986 Rothman's International which lists an impressive field of turfers. The favoured Shardari, with Walter Swinburn Jr wailing away, tried in vain but could not get the best of Jose Santos and Southjet.

(*Left-click on the image to see the full-size photo. Use your "Back" button to return to the blog post.)

Southjet beat the odds to win the 1986 International

Many of the great jockeys who made their living in North America have won the International. Jorge Velazquez (Snow Knight), Angel Cordero (Exceller) and Laffit Pincay (Majesty's Prince) had their turn in the spotlight. Canadian jockeys such as Sandy Hawley and Robin Platts, who made a name piling up Queen's Plate victories, have their name in the International record book.

While the race is a spectacle for even the most casual fan, it can also be a rewarding experience for the plucky punter. Below is my program from the 1989 International won by Jean Cruguet aboard Hodges Bay. The four year-old was listed at 10-1 in the program which demonstrates what a tough race this can be to handicap. The favoured Saint Andrews came into the event off a third place finish in the Arc De Triomphe but couldn't catch the horse who prepped locally when losing the Niagara Stakes by a nose.

The field for the 1989 International

The race is not without its controversies either.

1991 brought a difficult race for Canadian racing fans as the brilliant Sam-Son Farms colt Sky Classic would take the spoils, but only after we watched the illustrious Izvestia break down in front of the grandstand. An arm in the air and a tear down the cheek as the crowd came to terms with the loss of a much-loved horse.

The race has also seen two disqualifications knock winners off the board. In 1969, Tradesman won but was disqualified and placed last.
In 1992, Wiorno (12-1 morning line) won the race but was set down by the stewards and the Irish horse Snurge (5-1) was elevated to top spot to the dismay of many a punter.

The colourful program from the 1992 Rothmans International

The colourful program from the 1992 Rothmans International (Page 2)

To this day, the International remains my favourite racing day of the year at any track. My dad is back home in Belfast now and can't watch the races anymore but I've inherited most of his traits so our tradition continues. I still pray for rain, I still bet the Irish horse and as soon as its over I start counting the days until next year.

Relaxed Gesture graced the 2006 Cover but would lose the race to Collier Hill

It would be impossible to cover all the highs and lows of this historic race in one blog post, but as a racing writer - and fan - with a little too much time on my hands until March it would be great to relive all of the wonderful moments again on video.

Perhaps right now someone is sifting through boxes of old tapes in the Woodbine archives digging up footage of a young Robin Platts winning aboard Frenetico (1968) or gathering grainy proof of back-to-back wins by the pride of B.C, George Royal (1965-66).

I hope racing fans will soon have full access to this impressive archive of racing history. I'm even willing to roll up my sleeves and start lifting boxes if that's what it takes. After all, the International is only nine months away and we can't have that Dahlia footage getting dusty if we're going to entice Zenyatta to Toronto.

2008 International Program signed by Garrett Gomez, Javier Castellano, Jimmy Fortune, Jim McAleney and Richard Dos Ramos.

Did you know Woodbine's Richard Dos Ramos won the International in 1999? You can read the veteran's humble retelling of his victory with Thornfield in my post entitled Remembering Woodbine Legends Benburb and Thornfield.


Those of you who are just now noticing the new tabs underneath the Triple Dead Heat banner at the top of the screen might want to take a peak at the Woodbine News tab and take a gander at the important Ray Paulick piece regarding owner Michael Gill, currently at the centre of controversy, after Penn National jockeys voted last Saturday night not to ride in races if Gill’s horses are entered.

If you're curious about what your Woodbine trainers and horses are up to, then double click on the SnowBirds tab for the latest entries and results.
Of note, Malcolm Pierce sends out both No Use Denying and Silver Sands in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds on Saturday.

On Saturday, jockey Chantal Sutherland will get another shot at a big prize when Pretty Unusual goes to post in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. Woodbine double stakes winning Roger Attfield charge Palladio will try the $500,000 Classic over 1 1/8M on the ProRide but has a tough test against The Usual Q.T.


Thank you to everyone who emailed and commented regarding the new look of this site. I'm hoping to add a few more features over the coming weeks. KBM.


Ernie said...

So cool, those programs.
And you still call them exactors, no?

E-man said...

You mention 2-time winner George Royal. I'm in touch with his former owners, Bob and Ann Hall, and am working on a biography. If you have any George Royal-related stories, please let me know.

PS I've just started following you on Twitter.


Anonymous said...

keep up the great work on a great tradition! the canadian international is becoming a classic in its own rite! I had the good fortune of riding in the race; was one of three stewards that disqualified Tradesman and led the team that brought many world class racehorses to woodbine, including Drumtop, Secretariat, Dahlia,Youth.
thanx for the memories!
David Stevenson
Stevenson & Associates Inc

Keith-TripleDeadHeat said...

Thanks everyone for the kind comments.

Ernie - they're still exactors and it's still my favourite bet! i hope the inner track is working in your favour these days!

E-Man - I've sent you an email. Thanks for reading.

David - What a pleasant surprise. It's always interesting to find out who is reading - THANK YOU for the memories with all those great horses you helped bring to woodbine.