Trainer David Simcock is based in England, but he certainly has a reason to be fond of North American racing. Here, across the pond, his infrequent global travelers have repeatedly excelled at high levels, nabbing major races left and right while leaving handicappers to wonder, “why didn’t I see it coming?”
Just last month, Simcock sent Spanish Mission to win the rich Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park, a profitable result for America’s Best Racing readers. On Saturday, Simcock will be back in action with #4 Desert Encounter, who will contest the $800,000 Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine.
If this story sounds familiar, that’s because Desert Encounter sprung an 8-1 upset in the 2018 Canadian International, rallying strongly from the back of the pack to win by a length. That’s one of six major North American stakes races Simcock has won since 2011, and he’s generated this impressive streak of success from just 20 starts. That’s a 30% win rate!
Desert Encounter could certainly add to Simcock’s strong record on Saturday. The 7-year-old gelding has won three straight races in England over the last two months, including the Grade 3 Dubai Duty Free Legacy Cup on September 21 at Newbury. Considering Desert Encounter finished third in the 2018 Legacy Cup, it’s safe to say he’s approaching this year’s Canadian International in better form than ever.
Indeed, this is reflected in Desert Encounter’s Racing Post Ratings and Timeform Ratings, two measurements used to rate the performances of European horses. His recent ratings are among the best he’s earned in his long career.
But be forewarned, in the Canadian International, Desert Encounter will face a formidable challenger with similar ratings under his belt. That challenger is #1 Ziyad, who has shown impressive improvement over the course of 2019.
Based in France with trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias, this 4-year-old son of Rock of Gibraltar has competed against some high-class runners in recent starts. Two starts back, he set the pace in the 1 ½-mile Grade 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud before finishing second by less than a neck against Coronet, a two-time Grade 1 winner this season. A nose further back in third place was Lah Ti Dar, a classic-placed filly who has recorded a quartet of second- or third-place finishes at the highest level.
Ziyad arguably ran even better in the 1 9/16-mile Grade 2 Grand Prix de Deauville on Aug. 25. After tracking the early pace, Ziyad seized a clear lead and was confidently ridden to prevail by a half-length over Soft Light, who returned to finish a decent sixth in the historic Grade 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe against some of the best horses in Europe.
Where Ziyad could hold an advantage over Desert Encounter is in the racing tactics department. With just six entrants in the Canadian International, several of them late runners, Ziyad’s tactical speed could be a huge asset, allowing him to race on or near the lead through slow pace fractions. From there, the class he’s shown against high-profile runners in Europe should make him difficult to catch.
In my opinion, Ziyad and Desert Encounter are a cut above their rivals in the Canadian International. Perhaps #2 Pivoine could be dangerous—like Ziyad, he has some tactical speed—but he was beaten a length by Desert Encounter in the Legacy Cup, and Pivoine didn’t show much in his previous trip to North America, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million on August 10 after failing to show his typical speed.
So how do we turn these opinions into a wagering strategy? My best advice for players on a small budget is to box Ziyad and Desert Encounter in the exacta. The payoff won’t be huge, but I’m confident the play will yield a winning return.
If you want to shoot for a bigger payoff, I suggest betting Ziyad and Desert Encounter in the top two slots of the trifecta and superfecta. Underneath, we’ll favor Pivoine and #3 Nessy, who finished second in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Stakes over this course and distance last month.
Wagering Strategy on a $12 Budget
$6 exacta box: 1,4 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, 9th race, $5 exacta box 1,4
Wagering Strategy on a $24 Budget
$5 trifecta: 1,4 with 1,4 with 2,3 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, 9th race, $3 trifecta 1,4 with 1,4 with 2,3
$1 superfecta: 1,4 with 1,4 with 2,3 with 2,3 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, 9th race, $1 superfecta 1,4 with 1,4 with 2,3 with 2,3
Good luck, and enjoy the race!