There's something about the $1.5-million Pattison Canadian International that brings out the best in both Joshua Tree and jockey Frankie Dettori.
Dettori took the Irish-bred to the lead from the start and stayed there, capturing Canada's richest thoroughbred race wire-to-wire in a record-tying win for both jockey and horse at Woodbine Racetrack.
Dettori claimed his third International victory, joining Robert Watson (1942-44) as the only individuals to achieve that milestone. But Dettori became the first jockey to earn all of his victories since this became a turf race in 1958, having won previously aboard Mutafaweq in 2000 and Sulamani in 2004.
Joshua Tree, second in last year's race, earned his second career International win with the first coming in 2010. He became only the third horse to register two victories after Canadian-bred George Royal (1965-66) and Majesty's Prince (1982, '84).
Joshua Tree also becomes the International's 12th Irish-bred champion.
"I've been very lucky at Woodbine overall," said the colourful Dettori, who performed his famous flying dismount in the winner's circle. "You need the right horse and I've happened to be on the right horse a few times which is good for me.
"I like it here. I have some good friends here and I always look forward to come."
But the win didn't come without some anxious moments for Dettori and Joshua Tree. The 4-to-1 pick had to hold off a spirited late kick by British-bred Dandino, a 25-to-1 long-shot that finished second, just a half-length back. Woodbine-based Forte Dei Marmi, the lone Canadian horse in the field, finished a solid third at 8-to-1 odds.
"Oh, they were coming at the end, I could hear the wind," Dettori said with a chuckle. "I've been here before and know what [the long final stretch] is like.
"I was the hare and the hounds were coming."
Jim Crowley, the jockey aboard Dandino, said his horse simply ran out of track at the end.
"Another stride or two and I think we could have won it," he said. "Down the lane he was always battling back ... he wouldn't quit.
"He ran a simply phenomenal race."
John Velazquez, who guided British-bred Forte Dei Marmi to third, tipped his cap to the two top finishers.
"Good horses beat him today, that's it," Velazquez said. "I was saving ground, right behind the speed, we came running and they just caught me for second.
"I had a perfect trip."
Dettori said the path he took to victory wasn't an accident. The game plan was to take Joshua Tree out to the lead early, which he was surprisingly able to do quite easily.
"The thing is no one wanted to sacrifice their horse to take me on and set it up for the others," Dettori said. "In a small field like this sometimes you can get away with it.
"It is [a calculated gamble], of course ... because if you go to the front and somebody takes you on you're going to set the [pace] for the closers. But he's a tough horse, he's been here before and we kept him galloping to the end."
Joshua Tree posted a winning time of 2 minutes 30.89 seconds in the 1 1/2-mile event on a good turf. The field was reduced to 10 horses after Al Khali was scratched earlier Sunday due to the possibility of soft ground because of rain showers in the area.
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, included: Wigmore Hall, Air Support, Imperial Monarch, Scalo, Reliable Man, Prince Will I Am and Lay Time.
Joshua Tree paid $10.70, $6.10 and $4.40 while Dandino returned $20.80 and $11.30. Forte De Marmi paid $5.80.
Joshua Tree secured an all-expense paid berth to the Breeders' Cup, which will be held Nov. 2-3 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. But Lucie Botti, the wife of trainer Marco Botti and Joshua Tree's assistant trainer, said the plan is to run the horse at next month's Japan Cup.
And Dettori would like to ride Joshua Tree in Japan.
"Yes, I love the horse," he said. "He's very tough and uncomplicated.
"But let's enjoy today and digest it and I'll leave the plans to the owner and trainer."
Lucie Botti also said there are no immediate plans to retire the five-year-old son of champion Montjeu, who earned his fifth win in 20 career starts and pushed his overall earnings over $3-million.
"I believe so," Botti said when asked if Joshua Tree is as good now as he's ever been. "He comes into form in autumn it seems.
"He is a very courageous horse and always fights."
Also on Sunday's card, Next Question, a 16-1 long-shot, captured the six-furlong, $500,000 Grade 1 Nearctic turf race for three-year-olds and up. Next Question posted a time of 1:09.32 to finish 1 1/2 lengths ahead of 9-2 pick Night Carnation with Bear Tough Tiger, at 9-1, taking third.
Irish-bred Siyouma won the $1-million, Grade 1 E.P. Taylor turf event. The 5-2 favourite claimed the 1 1/4-mile race for fillies and mares in 2:03.04, finishing ahead of French horse Pagera, a 13-1 long-shot, and Dream Peace, a 3-1 pick.
Next Question and Siyouma both earned all-expense paid berths into the Breeders' Cup, but Siyouma's handlers also plan to race their horse in Japan instead.