TORONTO -- Six months ago, the idea of celebrating a victory by Phoenix Reach in the $1.5-million Pattison Canadian International thoroughbred race was the furthest thought from trainer Andrew Balding's mind. That's because in April, Balding wasn't sure if Phoenix Reach would ever race again.
The Irish-bred suffered a fractured pastern as a two-year-old that required a plate and three pins to be inserted surgically. But in April, the hardware had to be removed because Phoenix Reach wasn't responding well to the initial treatment.
"It was pretty bad," Balding said. "We honestly didn't think he'd ever race again.
"But he has come back great. It says a fair bit about the horse and his courage."
The lightly raced colt -- yesterday's race was just the fifth of his career -- showed plenty of courage and determination. After an unpredictable start, the 5-1 second choice came off the pace to take the lead with a quarter-mile remaining, then held off spirited challenges by compatriot Macaw (9-1 longshot) and 6-5 favourite Brian Boru on a yielding turf to claim the $900,000 winner's share in Canada's richest thoroughbred race.
"I was worried because he got a little upset before the race," said winning jockey Martin Dwyer. "He's not used to all the ponies on the track and all the buildup.
"But I managed to get in behind in the backstraight and came home really good. I had plenty of horse underneath me. I was just waiting for the split and when I got it he went."
When Dwyer took Phoenix Reach to the lead, Balding breathed a sigh of relief.
"I started to feel better when Martin took the lead," Balding said. "You could see (Phoenix Reach) was settled and relaxed.
"He was a big problem early on as far as looking at all the girls all the time. He has taken a shining to the ponies, which we were aware of and that's what had him on his toes beforehand. But Martin did a great job."
Phoenix Reach, who became the seventh Irish-bred to win this event, paid $12.80, $6 and $3.80.
Macaw, who finished three-quarters of a length behind in second, returned $8.40 and $4.20. Third-place finisher Brian Boru, a length behind the winner, paid $2.50.
The remainder of the field was: Bowman Mill; Sabiango; Lunar Sovereign; Gruntled; Shoal Water (owned by Sam-Son Farm of Milton, Ont); Art Variety; and Portcullis (Sam-Son Farm).
The competition was reduced to 10 horses yesterday morning when defending champion Ballingarry, the 4-1 second choice, was scratched due to a leg infection. The Irish-bred four-year-old was looking to become the first winner of consecutive International races since George Royal (1965-'66).