An Ontario-bred claimer, four local owners, an astute conditioner and a Grade 1 dream – English Illusion and his connections are hoping for a storybook finish in the Pattison Canadian International.
Owned by 4U Thoroughbred Racing Stable (Ron McRae, brothers Dave [Ron's son-in-law] and Steve Robinson, along with Rob Loescher [Dave and Steve's cousin]), English Illusion, claimed by Sylvain Pion for $45,000 in August, will now get his shot at glory in the Grade 1, 1 1/2-mile International on October 13.
While Pion wasn't thinking of contesting an $800,000 fall turf classic when he brought the 5-year-old English Channel gelding into his barn on the Woodbine backstretch, the career path of English Illusion took his connections in a direction they still can't quite believe.
“I like my distance horses,” he said. “And he's a good horse. I paid attention to him when he came over to the paddock. The main thing that I was thinking about was the Turf Endurance Series (a four-leg grass series with expanding distances, contested at Woodbine). I have Artistico – who leads the Series – and I thought if anyone else is going to come and beat him, it could be English Illusion. We could have gone there and he would have been an all-star, but we had the Halton Stakes.”
Sent off at 8-1 in the Halton, English Illusion won the grass event by 1 ½-lengths in 2:29.72 over 'good' ground on August 29.
After that, it was a spot in the starting gate for the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes on September 15, where the Ontario-bred finished third to International foe Johnny Bear in the 1 1/2-mile race.
“After that race, everything went out the window with thoughts of the Endurance Series,” said Pion with a laugh. “There was no more discussion about that. It didn't feel like a losing situation. I was very fortunate. He came from a great barn, a great trainer (Dan Vella) and good people who take great care of their horses. Sometimes it's a change of scenery that helps. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.”
Pion's hoping his new stable star can come up with another big performance on the world stage this Saturday.
“He's coming into the race in really good shape or else I wouldn't be going,” he said. “He's training well. I know the competition will be a lot tougher than the last one (Northern Dancer). He's earned the right to be here. I know there are some very good horses, but this is his home turf. They're going to have to run to beat him. He's no slouch. He works hard.”
Woodbine-based rider Rafael Hernandez, who won the 2015 Queen's Plate with Shaman Ghost, will be aboard for the International.
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