Timeform's Mark Milligan previews Saturday's Grade 1 action at Woodbine and Keeneland, which includes the Canadian International.
"...Desert Encounter's best form is good enough to take a hand in here, particularly if Thundering Blue underperforms for any reason."
Timeform on Desert Encounter
There is plenty of European interest spread around Saturday's three Grade 1 races in North America, with challengers from Britain, France and Ireland spread around Woodbine and Keeneland. Woodbine's highlight is the Pattison Canadian International (22:41 BST), which features a strong European challenge, headed by Thundering Blue and Desert Encounter.
It's hard to believe that the Thundering Blue we've seen of late was beaten in the Cambridgeshire off a mark of 93 just over a year ago, such has been his rate of improvement in the second half of the summer. A last-gasp win over Brorocco and Elarqam in the Group 2 Sky Bet York Stakes at York in July was followed up with a cracking third to Roaring Lion in the Juddmonte International at the same course. A subsequent win in the Group 3 Stockholm Cup International at Bro Park in Sweden saw Thundering Blue virtually replicate his Juddmonte International Timeform rating, a race that also proved his ability to stay this mile-and-a-half trip. While Thundering Blue is the most likely winner, his current price of around 2/1 doesn't represent any great value.
As a consequence, the bet in the race could well be another British-trained raider in Desert Encounter, whose trainer David Simcock knows what it takes to a big race in Canada. A horse who falls short of the highest level in Europe, Desert Encounter's best form is good enough to take a hand in here, particularly if Thundering Blue underperforms for any reason. His trainer has opted to use Lasix on Desert Encounter, which may give him a slight edge on Thundering Blue, who doesn't receive medication.
On ratings, the German-trained Khan appears to have a very solid chance. However, his recent win in Group 1 company at Cologne on desperate ground may not be quite as good as it seems given he was the only one who seemed to handle conditions on the day.
Spring Quality and Johnny Bear head the shortlist of the North American runners, with ready preference for the former, whose Grade 1-winning form is stronger than that of Johnny Bear's. However, this is a race that Europeans have a tremendous record in, having won it no less than twenty times to date, and it can go the way of Desert Encounter, whose price in relation to Thundering Blue seems to represent a bit of value, particularly as the addition of Lasix could eke out a few pounds of improvement.
Europe could be in for a good night at Woodbine, as Roger Varian's Sheikha Reika has fair claims of taking the E. P. Taylor Stakes (23:18 BST). This race doesn't have a strong look to it by Grade 1 standard, and Sheikha Reika won't need to improve too much from her listed win last time to take a big hand. She won't have it all her own way, however, as Chad Brown fields a trio of fillies against her. Of those, the intriguing one is Pollara, who makes her first start for Brown having taken a Group 3 contest for Francis-Henri Graffard when last seen in France in June. Chad Brown has an enviable record with European imports, and she is worthy of the utmost respect. However, at the current price of around 8/1, Sheikha Reika looks the one to be with.
Over at Keeneland, Mark Johnston challenges for the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (22:30 BST) with Nyaleti, who put up a career-best effort when not beaten far into fifth behind Beat The Bank in the Group 2 Celebration Mile at Goodwood last time. A repeat of that puts her in the mix here, but even more will be needed to beat Rushing Fall, yet another talented Chad Brown turf filly. Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, Rushing Fall bounced back to her best last time with an impressive win in Grade 3 company last time. A repeat of that - where she ran to a career-best Timeform rating of 120 - marks her out as very much the one to beat, though that will be reflected in her price. Consequently, this is a race best watched.
Minimum Bet Guarantee
Back Desert Encounter in the Canadian International
Back Sheikha Reika in the E. P. Taylor
Betfair's 'minimum bet guarantee' on all Class 1 and 2 races in the UK and Ireland - which means all customers are able to bet to win a minimum of £500 - has been extended to cover all races at selected meetings this week. T&Cs apply.