Champs Elysees couldn’t have picked a better time to win his first race of the season.
Coming down the final stretch of the $2-million Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine on Saturday, he was sitting in fourth, chasing pre-race favourite Jukebox Jury and 2008 winner Marsh Side.
But Jockey Garrett Gomez kicked the six-year-old horse into gear and he closed on the two leaders quickly.
By the final 100 yards the Juddmonte Farms horse had opened a small lead and didn’t look back to win the richest race in Canada.
“As soon as we headed for the backside, the pace started quickening a little bit,” Gomez said. “Champs Elysees quickened for a minute and I thought, ‘Let them go.’
“A couple already started to press really hard. I’ll just sit in here and wait on him and give him some confidence and see what happens.”
Gomez was glad to see the horse get “a big one.
“I just try to ride him with all the confidence in the world,” he said. “He is probably one of the most talented horses I have seen and he finds the ways to get himself beaten.
“He seems to never end up in the winner’s circle on the big days.”
Garrett O’Rourke, Juddmonte Farm manager in Lexington, Kentucky, told reporters that despite the win, the horse will be retired.
“It makes it all the sweeter [that his last start is a win],” he said. “To go out on such a huge win like this, is obviously a huge boost to his stallion career as well. He deserves it.”
While there is temptation to continue racing Champs Elysees, O’Rourke said it is unlikely.
“I don’t think so, we have too many arrangements already made for the horse’s future and some of those arrangements were made on the assumption that he could win today,” he said.
“We have another horse, Spanish Moon, who will likely come for the Breeders Cup and that is a very good 1½ mile turf horse as well, so that was part of the contingency plan.”
Going into the race, Jukebox Jury was the favourite. His jockey Royston Ffrench thought the animal ran a gutsy race.
“We come over here to win, but that wasn’t to be,” said Ffrench after his second place finish. “Even still, take nothing away from the horse. He held his own.”
Last year’s winner, Marsh Side, led for the majority of the race. At one point he opened up a healthy lead, but Jukebox Jury and Champs Elysees managed to close the gap by the final stretch.
Jockey Javier Castellano had no regrets how he ran the race.
“I had a good trip,” he said. “I was galloping along on the lead. He ran pretty well. There was not much speed in the race. I did my own thing.”
Finishing in third was Buccellati. Jockey William Buick thought if the ground was softer the outcome would have been different.
“The horse ran well,” he said. “I think if the ground comes up a little softer, he can definitely find another gear. He’s very tough and he enjoys the mile-and-a-half.”