December 18, 2017

Erupt mounts Canadian International title defense; Idaho returns for record-hunting O’Brien

Erupt will add Lasix for new trainer Graham Motion (WEG/Michael Burns Photography)

Winless since landing the 2016 Canadian International (G1), Erupt will make his debut for new trainer Graham Motion in Sunday’s renewal of the C$800,000 turf feature at Woodbine. But the defending champion may be overshadowed by the storyline revolving around familiar foe Idaho, whose trainer Aidan O’Brien is on the verge of an all-time record.

As of Thursday, O’Brien has scored 23 Group 1 wins in 2017, just two off the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 in one calendar year. Depending upon how the Ballydoyle runners fare at Newmarket on Friday and Saturday, at Australia’s Caulfield in between, and one race earlier in Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor (G1), Idaho could be in position to give O’Brien a record-tying or record-breaking victory.

To do so, however, Idaho will have to pick up some globetrotting tips from full brother Highland Reel. Disappointing in both of his transatlantic ventures, as the 7-5 favorite no less, Idaho was beaten each time by Erupt. He tried the Canadian International last year as a sophomore, finishing fifth. Idaho was expected to do better in their latest clash in the August 26 Sword Dancer Invitational (G1) at Saratoga, only to argue the pace early and retreat to sixth, a neck behind fifth-placer Erupt. In his ensuing appearance in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), Idaho faded to eighth after being on the engine.

Although a money-burner on this side of the pond so far, Idaho has been effective in the right circumstances, and the rain in the forecast will be a plus. The winner of last summer’s Great Voltigeur (G2) and this season’s Hardwicke (G2) at Royal Ascot, the Galileo colt also placed in the 2016 Derby (G1) and Irish Derby (G1) and finished third to Enable and Ulysses in the July 29 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). Those major placings all came on rain-softened ground, so he doesn’t have the same firm-turf prerequisites as his brother. Jockey Ryan Moore comes in for the ride aboard the 5-2 favorite.

Erupt, on the other hand, wants the turf to remain on the better side of good. If so, there’s ample precedent for the 7-2 chance to bounce back here. After all, he’d snapped a losing skid in last October’s Canadian International, when he’d gone winless since the 2015 Grand Prix de Paris (G1) for initial trainer Francis-Henri Graffard. Although his form doesn’t look as good entering his title defense, he adds first-time Lasix, and according to the entries, drops the cheekpieces that lit him up too much at the Spa. And there’s precedent for Motion orchestrating a remarkable turnaround for another Niarchos homebred who’d stalled in Europe – Main Sequence. Junior Alvarado picks up the mount.

Motion is double-handed with German import Messi, eligible to outperform his 8-1 morning-line. Because he’s not the most consistent individual, it’s significant that the Gestut Brummerhof homebred has fired both times at Woodbine. He scored his biggest career win in last year’s Sky Classic (G2), and most recently finished third in the local prep, the Northern Dancer Turf (G1), to Johnny Bear. Considering that effort came off a two-month break, Messi could be ready to deliver with Jose Ortiz, who appears to click with him.

Locally based Johnny Bear has turned in back-to-back career efforts for trainer Ashlee Brnjas. If his 3 1/4-length conquest of the Halton left class questions going into the Northern Dancer, his collaring of Godolphin’s Group 1 winner Hawkbill last time furnished an answer. The markedly improved son of English Channel may get a similarly soft pace set-up.

British invader Chemical Charge, a slightly inconvenienced third to Idaho in the Hardwicke, has followed up with two straight wins. Trained by Ralph Beckett, the Qatar Racing colorbearer broke through with his first stakes coup in the September (G3) over Kempton’s Polytrack. The 5-1 shot keeps Oisin Murphy in the saddle and adds Lasix.

The top two from the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3), Oscar Nominated and Postulation, were separated by only a head, and now bring their rivalry north. Oscar Nominated is joined by his stablemate from the Mike Maker barn, Enterprising, only ninth in the Kentucky Turf Cup in his first try at the 1 1/2-mile trip. Two starts back, Enterprising was a close fourth in the Arlington Million (G1), where Oscar Nominated was a one-paced eighth. Also exiting the Kentucky Turf Cup is sixth-placer Bullards Alley, who now teams up with Eurico Rosa da Silva. A Grade 3 veteran from the Tim Glyshaw barn, Bullards Alley was a near-miss second in the July 2 Singspiel (G3) at this course and distance and fifth behind Postulation in the marathon American St Leger (G3). Postulation, who earlier wired the Cape Henlopen at Delaware, figures to be on or near the lead in a race lacking much tempo.

The lone California shipper, multiple Grade 2 victor Flamboyant, steps up in trip after a rallying third to Hunt and Itsinthepost in the 1 3/8-mile Del Mar H. (G2). The Paddy Gallagher charge may provide some insight into how their form stacks up in an international test, although he’d need a return to his absolute best to flatter them.

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