Joshua Tree made his final Canadian appearance a historic one.
The six-year-old Irish-bred took the lead coming off the final turn and never looked back, defending his title at the $1-million Pattison Canadian International on Sunday. The 6-1 pick became the first three-time winner of this event and also was second in the 2011 edition.
Joshua Tree also has the distinction of winning this race for three different trainers — Aidan O'Brien in 2010, Marco Botti in '11 and Ed Dunlop this year. He also earned co-owners Khalid K. al Nabooda and Kamel Albahou their second consecutive International crown.
"I have no idea but it's quite remarkable," assistant trainer Andrew Stringer said when asked about Joshua Tree's dominance at Woodbine. "When you think that horse has won three Canadian Internationals for three different trainers and has been trained three different ways, he's been fed three different ways, for him to do that he's quite an extraordinary equine thoroughbred racehorse.
"He's full of heart, guts and determination and by God he loves it here, doesn't he? It was an awesome performance."
And one that could leave a lasting impression at Woodbine considering chances are good it marked Joshua Tree's swansong at the Toronto track. His handlers are planning to retire the horse to stud at season's end.
"As he hit the front with that lead and he opened up three, four lengths I said, 'That's it, game over,"' Stringer said. "There was no way he was going to get beat because he's so game.
"There was nothing that was going to get past him today. The flight coming from bloody LA wouldn't have got him overtop the grandstand."
The victory was Joshua Tree's first this year, ending a six-race winless streak. And Joshua Tree returned to the winner's circle for the first time since doing so at last year's International ahead of Dandino and Forte Dei Marmi. Joshua Tree came into this event off a distant 13th-place finish in his last race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 6.
The International win was the first for both Dunlop and jockey Ryan Moore, who was second aboard Ask in 2007.
"I went out a little sooner than I would've liked ideally but somehow I knew he'd stay better and outfight most of them," Moore said. "I didn't want to get into the race too early so I let Mike (jockey Mike Smith aboard 8/5 favourite Slumber) go and I thought he stays so well, I'll get a good run up the inside and kick home."
Joshua Tree's victory also marked the fourth straight year the International winner has been sired by Montjeu, who is also the father of 2011 champion Sarah Lynx. Joshua Tree's first victory came in 2010.
Joshua Tree won the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 event on a yielding turf in 2:35.45 at Woodbine Racetrack. Hyper was second three-quarters of a length back with Seismos taking third in cool windy conditions.
Joel Rosario, the jockey aboard Hyper, felt his horse would have enough of a kick to take the lead down the stretch but couldn't match Joshua Tree.
"I thought he would pick it up a little more turning for home," he said. "But that horse (Joshua Tree) had another kick."
Andrea Atzeni, who rode Seismos to third place, said his horse raced gamely.
"He's a tough horse," Atzeni said. "He came off the bridle very early but to be fair to him, once I set up down he kicked home all the way to the line with the winner.
"Joshua Tree was a bit better and he quickened away from us."
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was: Now We Can; Temeraine; Slumber; Forte Dei Marmi; Stormy Len; Lucayan; and Perfect Timber, the lone Canadian-bred horse in the race.
Joshua Tree paid $15.30, $7.20 and $4.50. Hyper returned $6.90 and $4.60 while Seismos paid $6.
The International field was reduced to 10 after Canadian-bred Irish Mission scratched to run in the $500,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes, a 1 1/4-mile turf event for fillies and mares. Irish Mission finished a distant seventh in a race Irish-breds took the first three spots in as 2-1 favourite Tannery won by a head over 7-1 pick Fitful Skies in 2:07.13 with Moment In Time taking third in the 10-horse field.
Joshua Tree earned his seventh victory in 31 career starts and the $600,000 winner's share boosted his overall earnings past $3.9 million.
Stringer had a feeling Joshua Tree had another good race in him based upon how easily he travelled to Toronto from England. Joshua Tree arrived at Woodbine on Tuesday and immediately settled into his new surroundings.
"When we put him in the crate at the airport (in Amsterdam), he was almost like, 'Are we going back to Canada?"' Stringer said. "When he came here he walked into the place he stayed last year and he settled immediately.
"He drank immediately, he ate immediately. He was never in any way bothered. He came here fit. Our job was to keep him in one piece and that's what we did."