BALLYDOYLE claimed one of the world’s top turf races on Saturday when Joshua Tree  (Aidan O'Brien/Colm O'Donoghue) just held on in a thrilling photo-finish to the Canadian International. Mores Wells and the favourite Redwood just failed to catch the three-year-old as European visitors recorded a 1-2-3 in the Can$2 million event. The distances were a head and a nose.

Sent off a 9-2 shot, Joshua Tree completed a hat-trick for transatlantic visitors in the three richly endowed Grade 1 events at Woodbine on Saturday, when the Rae Guest-trained Serious Attitude won the Nearctic Stakes and French-trained Reggane powered home in the EP Taylor.

Joshua Tree, Aidan O'Brien's second International winner after Balingarry in 2002, added his name to a lustrous roll of honour in Canada's signature race, won in the past by the likes of Secretariat, Dahlia and Singspiel.

Having delayed the start for six minutes after losing a shoe, the son of Montjeu's success owed plenty to a marvellous ride from Ballydoyle stalwart Colm O'Donoghue, who settled him in fourth before kicking for home midway down the stretch with what proved to be a decisive move.

The timing was crucial. Handed an uncontested lead, Fifty Proof got away with some dawdling early splits (26s, 52s, 1m18.2s) and it must have been tempting for O'Donoghue to give serious chase much earlier than he did.

However, in North American terms it is a long way home in the Woodbine stretch, and on his first visit to Canada, O'Donoghue rode the track as if he had been there all his life.

Biding his time, he waited until just outside the two-furlong pole to ask Joshua Tree (on Lasix for the first time) for his major effort, and his mount easily mowed down Fifty Proof.

Mores Wells and Redwood both closed from the rear but the race was already won - though only just, because the three of them crossed the wire in unison.

Joshua Tree, though, had held on much to the delight of his exultant rider, enjoying the biggest success of his career.

"It's amazing," said O'Donoghue, whose biggest previous win came in the 2007 Poule d'Essai des Poulains on Astronomer Royal.

"This is very important to me and means an awful lot," he added. "I really owe the owners a lot - they put their trust in me to come over here and ride this horse and he has been trained specifically for this race by Aidan. He knew he was the right type of horseand he missed the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to come here."

Joshua Tree, who won the Royal Lodge Stakes at two, was having just the third outing of an abbreviated season, having failed to stay when fifth in the St Leger on his previous start. He could run again in three weeks' time in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Stockholm Cup winner Mores Wells, a 20-1 chance, finished to good effect to pip Redwood for second, with leading US turf performer Al Khali eating up ground out wide after a troubled passage before finishing fourth.

The Barry Hills-trained Redwood was sent off favourite after winning the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf over course and distance last month, but the four-year-old fluffed his lines when badly missing the break and then being unsuited by the slow pace.

For good measure, Redwood struggled to find racing room under Michael Hills and bumped rivals when attempting to improve from the rear in mid-stretch before moving in tandem with Mores Wells.

"It went pretty good," said Michael Hills. "I just wish I had got more pace.  He just got caught for a bit of speed when it really mattered."

 

Woodbine: Canadian International (Group 1) 1m4f, turf, 3yo+