K.K. al Nabouda and K. Albahou's Joshua Tree rewrote the record books in Sunday's Grade 1, $957,566 Canadian International at Woodbine, roaring through a huge gap on the fence to become the first three-time winner in the race's 76-year history. Making his unprecedented hat trick all the more impressive, the great-hearted son of Montjeu won for three different trainers and riders, employing different running styles, yet showing his fighting spirit each time.
When trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Colm O'Donoghue, Joshua Tree rallied from fifth to score by a hard-fought head here as a sophomore in 2010. The next year, he was a slow-starting, troubled second to the filly Sarah Lynx for trainer Marco Botti. But Joshua Tree regained his title in the 2012 Canadian International. Under an inspired, front-running ride by Frankie Dettori, he held by a half-length from Dandino.
Transferred to Ed Dunlop ahead of his 2013 campaign, and piloted by Ryan Moore on Sunday, Joshua Tree stalked and pounced his way into the annals of Woodbine history. He made his 6-1 odds look generous as he opened up an insurmountable lead, and stayed on determinedly from the rallying Hyper.
The six-year-old defending champion got off a step slow, but soon regrouped to track the three-year-old Stormy Len through splits of :25 2/5, :51 2/5, 1:17 and 1:42 1/5 on the yielding turf. Slumber, the 8-5 favorite, took up a prominent spot out wide. Now We Can, Temeraine, Seismos, Lucayan and Hyper settled off the pace, trailed by the Roger Attfield pair of Perfect Timber and Forte Dei Marmi.
Stormy Len began to come off the hedge down the backstretch, and Moore quickly grasped the impending scenario. Keeping Joshua Tree to the inside, he was in perfect position when Stormy Len drifted out in earnest turning for home.
Joshua Tree seized the gift of a rail run into the stretch, cornered beautifully, and stormed clear before the rest of the field knew what hit them. Although Joshua Tree shortened stride a tad at the end of the lengthy stretch, and Hyper made late headway, he could not catch the three-time champion. Joshua Tree kept digging in all the way to the wire to repel Hyper by three-quarters of a length, finishing the 1 1/2-mile slog in 2:35 2/5 and furnishing $15.30 to his loyalists.
"He started a little slow," Moore said. "I was in a good position and quite happy to let the other horse (Stormy Len) take the lead. I didn't want to get into the race too early, so I let Mike (Smith, jockey of Slumber) go and I thought he stays so well, I'll get a good run up the inside and kick home. I went a little sooner than I would have liked ideally, but somehow I knew he'd stay better and outfight most of them."
Joel Rosario, Hyper's rider, tipped his cap to the winner.
"I had a very good trip," Rosario said. "I thought he would pick it up a little more turning for home but that horse (Joshua Tree) had another kick. He ran his race. I don't have any excuse, there was no trouble and he tried very hard."
Seismos was along belatedly for third, three-quarters of a length back of Hyper. Now We Can reported home another neck astern in fourth. Temeraine ran evenly in fifth. Slumber, Forte Dei Marmi, Stormy Len, Lucayan and Perfect Timber rounded out the order of finish. Irish Mission was scratched in favor of the E.P. Taylor for distaffers, where she ended up seventh.
Joshua Tree, who will retire to stud at Haras de Gastines in France in 2014, has now bankrolled $3,832,905 from his 31-7-7-4 line. After capturing the 2009 Royal Lodge as a juvenile, he had an abbreviated three-year-old campaign in 2010, finishing third in the Great Voltigeur and fifth in the St Leger before grinding out a game victory by a head in the Canadian International.
In early 2011, Joshua Tree took up residence in Qatar for new connections and won once from four starts, in the Qatar International Cup. The handsome bay was transferred to Botti that summer. A distant third to eventual Arc queen Danedream in the Grosser Preis von Baden, he played second fiddle to Sarah Lynx here in his seasonal finale.
Joshua Tree rounded into form during the 2012 Dubai Carnival, signing off from Meydan with a second in the Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night. Back in Europe, he was a clear runner-up in the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket to Fiorente, who is currently all the rage for the Melbourne Cup. Joshua Tree subsequently wired the Prix Kergorlay at Deauville and finished third in the Prix Foy at Longchamp to Japanese superstar Orfevre.
Following his heroics in last year's Canadian International, Joshua Tree ended the season with a ninth in the Hong Kong Vase, and later joined Dunlop. He was sixth in his debut for the yard in the May 17 Yorkshire Cup, a distant third to St Nicholas Abbey and Dunaden in the June 1 Coronation Cup, and a remote 10th behind Novellist in the June 23 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
Joshua Tree showed his old sparkle when trying to defend his title in the August 18 Prix Kergorlay. H nearly pulled off another front-running success before being nabbed by Verema, another contender for the Melbourne Cup. Joshua Tree raced only once in the interim in the October 6 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Leading early in the Longchamp showpiece, he ultimately retreated to 13th behind the impressive Treve.
Although Joshua Tree could have gone for the Melbourne Cup himself, his owners were keen for him to win a third Canadian International. They accordingly sent him back to his beloved Woodbine, and their decision paid off.
Dunlop's assistant Andrew Stringer revealed that Joshua Tree perked up in the Amsterdam airport, as though aware that he might be returning to the scene of his biggest career wins.
Stringer said that if the horse could have spoken, he would have asked if they were going to Canada.
"He seems to be at home here," Stringer said. "He drank well, ate well, and trained well. He settled down. Everything was perfect preparation for him. We had a bit of rain which helped.
"I just can't believe it that he's won three Group 1 races here for three different trainers with three different training methods. It just goes to show you how tough and genuine this horse is.
"What a horse!"
Bred by Castlemartin Stud and Skymarc Farm in Ireland, Joshua Tree commanded $659,458 from Demi O'Byrne as a Tattersalls October yearling. He was produced by Grade 3 heroine Madeira Mist, a daughter of Grand Lodge, who is herself a half-sister to multiple Group 3-placed stakes victress Misty Heights.
Joshua Tree's third dam is Group 1 Coronation winner Magic of Life, the dam of Group 2 queen Enthused and granddam of Group 3 scorer Norman Invader. Magic of Life also appears as the ancestress of Italian highweight and multiple Group 1-placed Nova Hawk; Japanese classic-placed stakes winner Chunyi; and Group 3 victors Norman Invader and Energizer.
Further back, this is the family of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaires Miss Oceana and Sabin.