TORONTO - The anticipated duel between British-breds Brown Panther and Hillstar never materialized Sunday, making for a rather bizarre 77th running of the $1-million Pattison Canadian International.
Brown Panther, the early 2-1 favourite, provided the pre-race drama that resulted in him being scratched moments before the start. Brown Panther bolted past the starting gate prior and kept running around the turf course, eventually dumping jockey Richard Kingscote, who was unhurt but banged his riding helmet against his leg in frustration as he walked back.
Brown Panther, co-owned by former England soccer star Michael Owen, also emerged unscathed. That was of some solace to Owen, who was at Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday.
"Long way to come for nothing!," Owens tweeted afterwards. "Thank goodness horse and jockey are both okay."
The race began after a brief delay and Hillstar, the 6-5 favourite, took the lead down the stretch and posted a three-quarters of a length win ahead of Big Blue Kitten in 2:29.0 on a good turf. Dynamic Sky, one of two Canadian-breds in the field, was third in a photo finish ahead of The Pizza Man.
The International win was the second straight for Moore, who captured last year's event aboard Joshua Tree. Hillstar and Brown Panther were regarded as the class of the field and Moore was surprised not to have Brown Panther at the starting gate.
"He (Brown Panther) was on his toes and I thought was being a bit of a handful," Moore said. "Obviously after what happened my task was made a bit easier.
"The horse felt very relaxed, very comfortable all the way around. He had a big class edge over the whole field, it was just a matter being in a good spot and keeping it straight forward."
Brown Panther is the six-year-old son of '05 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Shirocco. He came into Sunday's race winning the Group 1 Irish St. Leger over 1 3/4 miles Sept. 14 at the Curragh at 14-1 odds.
Brown Panther had also beat Hillstar this year. He won the Grade 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester on May 14, finishing 2 1/2-lengths ahead of second-place Hillstar.
"It's very disappointing," said Tom Dascombe, Brown Panther's trainer. "Well done to the winner (Hillstar) . . . . it wasn't our day today."
Moore felt he took Hillstar to the lead too early but Coral Pritchard-Gordon, the wife of winning trainer Sir Michael Stoute, disagreed.
"Hillstar was very relaxed throughout and while Ryan feels he came to the front a little bit too soon he did the right thing," she said. "As you all saw, the last 300 yards he was striding out beautifully."
Kingscote said Brown Panther was a bundle of nerves before the race.
"Just before the break the horse got wound up and unfortunately got me off," he said. "When I got back on I tried to keep him relaxed and as soon as I let go, he bolted.
"He's never done that before. He sometimes dances about and gets on his toes but he's never been that extreme. He's just a strong, good-looking horse and unfortunately he got revved up."
On Friday, Brown Panther threw his exercise rider during a workout at Woodbine.
Owen went to great lengths to see his horse run. The 34-year-old former England striker serves as a co-commentator for BT Sport and worked the Manchester City-Tottenham match Saturday before flying to Toronto.
He was scheduled to fly back to England on Sunday night to work a Monday night contest.
Sir Evelyn De Rothschild, Hillstar's owner, offered his best wishes to Brown Panther's connections.
"Those sort of things happen at racetracks and we're very sorry for the owners," he said. "We're thrilled Hillstar improved himself.
"He's a good horse and if he goes on as well as he is, we'll probably keep him in training next year."
That's when Pritchard-Gordon broke the news.
"I've just spoken to Michael," she said. "He wants to keep him next year."
Stoute earned his second career International win (first was in '96 with Singspiel). He's also been second twice (Shardari in '86, Ask in '07) and third (Daliapour in 2000).
Hillstar, a four-year-old, won for the second time in seven starts this year and registered his fourth career victory in 15 races. The $600,000 winner's share boosted his all-time earnings over $1.2 million.
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, included: Suntracer; Reporting Star; War Dancer; Pyrite Mountain; and O'Prado Ole.
Joel Rosario, Big Blue Kitten's jockey, said his horse started slowly but when he found his stride, Hillstar was able to fend off the challenge.
"We were trying to catch (Hillstar) from behind but that horse has another move," he said. "I thought the horse that won the race was the best horse today and I'm glad we got second."
Jockey Patrick Husbands said Dynamic Sky lost the race at the start.
"He reared up (at start) and lost the race leaving there," he said. "I didn't want to be so far back but there was nothing I could do . . . he had a good kick at the end."
Hillstar paid $4.50, $2.80 and $2.50 while Big Blue Kitten returned $2.80 and $2.80. Dynamic Sky paid $4.50.
Also on Sunday, Irish-bred Just The Judge won the Grade 1 $500,000 E.P. Taylor, a 1 1/4-mile event for fillies and mares. The 8-5 favourite won in 2:03.47 ahead of Odeliz, another Irish-bred, and Deceptive Vision, owned by Sam-Son Farms of Milton, Ont.
British-bred Caspar Netscher, the 9-2 third choice, captured the Grade 2 $300,000 Nearctic Stakes at six furlongs in 1:08.97. Black Hornet was second and 3-1 favourite Calgary Cat took third.