SPORTS

British-bred Brown Panther the early favourite for $1-million International race

10/16/2014 12:57 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - It hasn't taken Brown Panther long to get settled.

The British-bred six-year-old arrived at Woodbine Racetrack on Tuesday evening ahead of the $1-million Pattison Canadian International this weekend. Assistant trainer Christopher Ely said the early 2-1 favourite has shown no ill effects from the trip, which isn't good news for the remaining nine horses in the field for the 1 1/2-mile turf event.

"He's eating everything, he's drinking everything, we gave him exercise (Thursday) morning, he's fresh and he's happy," Ely said following the race draw at Woodbine. "The big part is he's eating ... but he takes everything well."

Then again, travel is nothing new for the son of 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf champion Shirocco. Brown Panther has competed in England, Germany, Ireland, France and Australia and his 10 career victories have come at nine different tracks.

Ely said one of Brown Panther's strengths is his ability to adapt to any surface, leaving Ely unconcerned about the potential of challenging conditions on the Woodbine turf on Sunday afternoon.

"I think everything will be right as long as we've got a good gallop and we can get him settled," Ely said. "He looks like he's better being up with the pace.

"As long as we've got a good gallop we'll be very happy."

There is a chance of rain on the weekend and Sunday's high is expected to be just 8 C.

Brown Panther has finished in the money in 17 of his 24 starts and earned just over $1.1 million. He won his last outing, the Grade 1 1 3/4-mile Irish St. Leger at the Curragh on Sept. 14 by 6 1/2 lengths at 14-1 odds.

Brown Panther also has definite star appeal as he's co-owned by former English soccer star Michael Owen, who also bred the horse.

Owen wasn't at Woodbine on Thursday as he was inducted into the English Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in Manchester, England. However, he is expected to be on hand for Sunday's race.

The card also includes the Grade 1 $500,000 E.P. Taylor over 1 1/4-miles for fillies and mares and Grade 2 $300,000 Nearctic at six furlongs.

The International field's leading money winner is Big Blue Kitten, the 3-1 second choice with almost $1.3 million in earnings. The American-bred six-year-old will break from the No. 9 post.

Big Blue Kitten has raced just three times this year, recording a win and a second-place finish. Jockey Joel Rosario, who guided Hyper to a second-place result behind Joshua Tree in last year's International, will ride Big Blue Kitten for the first time.

Big Blue Kitten comes off a fourth-place finish Sept. 27 in the Turf Classic, 2 1/4-lengths behind winner Main Sequence at Belmont Park.

"It was a little disappointing, we really liked him going into the race," trainer Chad Brown said. "It wasn't a bad effort but it wasn't a winning effort either.

"But he came out of the race in great shape. He's training well."

Hillstar, a four-year-old British-bred, is the 5-1 third choice and drew the No. 7 post. Trainer Sir Michael Stoute won the International in '96 with Singspiel and has been second twice (Shardari in 1986, Ask in 2007) and third (Daliapour, 2000).

Jockey Ryan Moore, who guided Joshua Tree to victory in this race last year, will ride Hillstar. The horse comes off a Group 3 win at Newbury on Sept. 20, his lone victory in six starts this year.

"I think a mile and a half is his best trip," Stoute said. "He (Brown Panther) beat me at Chester in May but that was an extended mile and five (furlongs).

"He just outstayed me that day. I would be hopeful I could beat him at a mile and a half."

Dynamic Sky and Pyrite Mountain are the two Canadian-bred horses in the race.

Five Canadian-bred horses have won the International since it became a turf event in 1958. They include George Royal (1965, '66), He's a Smoothie (1967), Sky Classic (1991), Chief Bearhart (1997) and Thornfield (1999).

Dynamic Sky, the four-year-old son of Sky Mesa, has won four of 18 career starts and was third in last year's Queen's Plate. Conditioned by Mark Casse, named Canada's top trainer on six occasions, Dynamic Sky comes off a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer on Sept. 14 at Woodbine.

Casse is happy to be heading into the International on a high note.

"He needed that rest and he's come back well from that," Casse said. "When the horse breezed ahead of the race, (jockey) Patrick (Husbands) couldn't wait to call me.

"He said that's the best he's ever been."

Pyrite Mountain returns to Woodbine after being sold and run in the U.S. in his first three races of the year, all second-place efforts. The four-year-old son of Silent Name is a two-time winner in 13 career starts and was seventh in last year's Queen's Plate.

Irish-bred Just The Judge is the early 7-5 favourite for the E.P. Taylor Stakes. Deceptive Vision, owned by Sam-Son Farms of Milton, Ont., is the 2-1 second choice.

Ten horses will go postward in the Nearctic, including Bold Venture Stakes winner Calgary Cat, British-bred Caspar Netscher and Connaught Cup champion Excaper.

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The International field with post, horse, jockey and odds includes:

1. O'Prado Ole, Channing Hill, 20-1; 2. The Pizza Man, Florent Geroux, 6-1; 3. Suntracer, Carlos Marquez Jr., 12-1; 4. Brown Panther, Richard Kingscote, 2-1; 5. Dynamic Sky, Patrick Husbands, 15-1; 6. War Dancer, Luis Contreras, 12-1; 7. Hillstar, Moore, 5-1; 8. Pyrite Mountain, Jamie Spencer, 12-1; 9. Big Blue Kitten, Rosario, 3-1; 10. Reporting Star, Justin Stein, 20-1.

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