Desert Encounter missed the break in the $606,261, Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes, but the delayed start didn’t keep the 7-year-old Halling gelding from rallying for a repeat victory in the Oct. 12 Woodbine feature.
Jockey Andrea Atzeni was aboard for the winning ride and reunited with Desert Encounter for the first time since last year’s Canadian International.
“The plan was to jump slow and he probably jumped a stride slower than I would have liked,” Atzeni said. “But it’s a mile and a half, it’s a long way, it’s a small field. So we were never panicking. The plan was always to sit last and come through them. So I wasn’t too worried about it.
“He’s a good horse, he likes it here. He loves the ground. And, I think he’s actually a better horse than he was last year.”
Trained by David Simcock for Abdulla Al Mansoori, Desert Encounter entered the Canadian International off a trio of Group 3 scores in England. He is the first horse to score back-to-back victories in the race since Joshua Tree in 2012-’13.
As the gates opened Saturday for the six-horse field, Ziyad took advantage of the rail and led the field over Pumpkin Rumble and Pivoine. Nessy was in fourth ahead of Alounak, and Desert Encounter patiently took up the rear.
Ziyad opened up the 1 1/2-mile turf event with quarter-mile fractions of :26.31, :52.26, 1:16.93, and 1:41.23, with the order remaining unchanged. After a mile, Ziyad was under pressure as Alounak and Desert Encounter began to wind up from the back of the field. Desert Encounter split foes and rallied to win by half a length.
The final time was 2:28.62 on a turf course rated good.
“Coming into the straight, obviously, I had options,” Atzeni said. “I could have gone around them but I decided to go inside. I thought the French horse [Ziyad] was the one to beat and I tracked him up through the straight and picked him up very nicely. He was the best horse in the race.”
Alounak bested Ziyad for second by a neck. Pivoine, Pumpkin Rumble, and Nessy completed the order of finish.
Starship Jubilee Earns First Grade 1 Win in E. P. Taylor
Off her second consecutive win in the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes Presented by the Japan Racing Association Sept. 14, Blue Heaven Farm’s 6-year-old Indy Wind mare stalked the pace set by 3.35-1 favorite Red Tea, took control off the turn for home, and was kept to the task by rider Luis Contreras through the stretch en route to her first Grade 1 victory. She finished the 1 1/4-mile turf test in 2:03.29 on turf rated good, holding clear by a length over runner-up Durance, who edged Platane by a head.
“She always gives me something, no matter what, at the end,” Contreras said. “I got so confident on the last turn. When we straightened away to make a run, she just exploded.”
Starship Jubilee was claimed for $16,000 on Attard’s behalf by his father and fellow trainer, Tino Attard, at Gulfstream Park in February 2017. The win was sweet redemption for the Florida-bred’s only other start in Grade 1 company, a fourth in last year’s E P. Taylor.
“It being a mile and a quarter is always tough, but it being a Grade 1 and being in our backyard, that kind of helps soften the blow,” said trainer Kevin Attard, who collected the first Grade 1 of his career as well. “She was so convincing when she won her last start, and she came out of that race in great shape. She’s worked really well in the interim and Luis gave her an incredible ride today. I’ve been fortunate to make some good claims in my career but she’s the pinnacle right now. … I want to thank Adam and Bonnie of Blue Heaven Farm for buying her and allowing me to train her.”—Claire Novak