French jockey Stephane Pasquier is a wizard in the saddle, but he’s also very quick of foot himself.
Minutes after he won the $1-million Pattison Canadian International Championship Stakes at Woodbine on Sunday with 12-to-1 shot Erupt, Pasquier sprinted like Usain Bolt through the tunnel of the grandstand back to the jockey’s room to catch a flight back home to France.
So did 39-year-old trainer Francis Henri Graffard. They had plenty to celebrate but were short on time. Erupt was the first horse that owner Flaxman Holdings had ever entered in the International, and they won it.
Erupt won by a length, charging past Queen Elizabeth II’s horse, Dartmouth, second favourite at 3-1 in her first venture into Canadian racing. Wake Forest, at almost 10-1, finished third. Wake Forest is German-bred but has spent the past year racing in the United States for Chad Brown.
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William Buick, who rode Dartmouth, kept him in striking distance of the pace-setter, and said: “He stuck on well for second. I’m delighted with the run. He did his best. He ran his heart out.”
Pasquier was very emotional at the finish, saying: “It’s like winning a World Cup [in soccer]. It’s so difficult to find good horses and when you have one, to keep him in a good way to be a top horse is difficult. I’m proud to see him back today.”
It was only Pasquier's second assignment in Canada. He rode three years ago in the International and finished ninth with Lucayan.
The only Canadian entry in the field, Danish Dynaformer, trained by Canadian and U.S. Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, was part of a wall of horses streaking to the wire in the 1 ½ mile race, and finished sixth.
Even though Erupt started from an outside post, Pasquier got him in right behind the leader, World Approval, and when asked, blitzed down the stretch. “I didn’t have to ask him so much,” Pasquier said. “I was a bit worried about my draw number outside, but voila! When you have luck, it is easy to win.”
Pasquier rode the horse for the racing company still held by Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, who from the 1950s on was a major player in international horse racing. Perhaps his best-known horse is Miesque, winner of two Breeders’ Cup Miles in 1987 and 1988.
When Niarchos’ health began to decline, his daughter, Maria Niarchos-Gouaze, took over the family racing business. At Woodbine, Maria’s niece, Electra Niarchos, arrived in the winner’s circle to give Irish-bred Erupt a hearty pat.
The win has opened up many possibilities for Erupt, Niarchos said. A Breeders’ Cup race – probably the Turf – is in the cards. But so is a return trip to the Japan Cup, where he finished sixth last year. “We will just see how he comes out of the race and take it day by day,” Niarchos said. Pasquier said they definitely had to go to the Breeders’ Cup.
Erupt has raced against the best in England and France, but was hobbled by bad luck, finishing second in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France. Last year, as a 3-year-old, he won the Grand Prix de Paris. He had won four of 11 races going into the International. The winner’s purse is $600,000, almost doubling what he had earned to date. Second money was $200,000.