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Thundering Blue early favourite at Pattison Canadian International

TORONTO — Johnny Bear has defied the odds before. The seven-year-old Ontario-bred gelding is the co-fourth choice at early 8/1 odds for the $800,000 Pattison Canadian International turf race Saturday at Woodbine Racetrack.

TORONTO — Johnny Bear has defied the odds before.

The seven-year-old Ontario-bred gelding is the co-fourth choice at early 8/1 odds for the $800,000 Pattison Canadian International turf race Saturday at Woodbine Racetrack. But that's of little concern to co-owner John Burness.

After all, Johnny Bear has won the last two Grade 1 $300,000 Northern Dancer races over the International course and mile-and-a-half distance. The second victory came Sept. 15.

"That's OK," Burness said Wednesday following the race draw at Woodbine. "If you're betting any money on him, it's even better if he's a longer shot and comes through."

Johnny Bear will break from the No. 9 post in the 11-horse field. He'll be alongside Irish-bred Desert Encounter, the 6-1 third choice who'll start from the No. 10 post.

"We're going a mile and a half and he's usually forwardly placed," said Burness, who operates Colebrook Farms. "I don't think it really matters, it'll shake out before they get to the turn anyways."

But Luis Contreras, Johnny Bear's regular rider, likes the outside position.

"This way we can see all the speed from the inside," he said.

Thundering Blue, the 2/1 early favourite, drew the No. 2 post while Spring Quality, the 4/1 second choice, drew the No. 6 post.

The full field, with post position, horse, rider and odds, includes: 1) Markitoff, Irad Ortiz Jr., 20/1; 2) Thundering Blue, Fran Berry, 2/1; 3) Khan, Clement Lecoeuvre, 10/1; 4) Funtastic, John Velazquez, 8/1; 5) Tiz a Slam, Steven Bahen, 20/1; 6) Spring Quality, Edgar Prado, 4/1; 7) English Illusion, Rafael Hernandez, 15/1; 8) Bandua, Adam Beschizza, 20/1; 9) Johnny Bear, Contreras, 8/1; 10) Desert Encounter, Andrea Atzeni, 6/1; 11) Focus Group, Jose Ortiz, 10/1.

Johnny Bear is owned by Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables Ltd. Burness operates Colebrook Farms, which is located in Uxbridge, Ont., while Danny (Bear) Dion, of Chibougamau, Que., founded Bear Stables.

Johnny Bear is also trained by Ashlee Brnjas, who just happens to be Burness's daughter. Although Johnny Bear has just a win, second and third-place effort in five starts this year, he had seven money finishes (five wins, second and third) in 11 races in 2017.

"She's believed in the horse," Burness said. "She's figured the horse out in his training and what he needs."

This marks Johnny Bear's second straight International appearance. Last year, the horse struggled adjusting to a soft turn and finished 10th as Contreras pulled Johnny Bear up to prevent injury.

"We really shouldn't have run him because he doesn't like that soft (grass) at all," Burness said. "Lou did the right thing by just pulling him up and not injuring the horse because it's easy for them to get hurt on a turf like that.

"Ideally, we'd like the turf to be just like it was in the Northern Dancer. If he runs his race like he did in the Northern Dancer, he'll be tough. He's in as good condition right now as he's ever been and touch wood that he keeps going that way. For his age, its phenomenal the shape he's in."

Johnny Bear has finished in the money in 22-of-40 career races, including eight wins, and amassed over $859,000 in earnings. Six of his victories _ and over $720,000 of his overall bankroll _ have come on grass.

"Winning a race like this would be phenomenal, it really would," Burness said. "I've been in it 40 years and won Grade 2 races and Grade 3s but I never dreamed I'd be with a horse that would win a Grade 1.

"Winning one is good and certainly this year was over the moon. If you could win something like this, it would obviously add to a career."

Thundering Blue will chase a third win in four starts Saturday. The five-year-old England-based son of Exchange Rate is coming off a two-length win in the Grade 3 Stockholm Cup on Sept. 23.

The trip to Sweden was Thundering Blue's first experience on a plane and trainer David Menuisier said there were concerns.

"He isn't the best traveller as he can feel a bit claustrophobic so it was a big test to go and run in Sweden," he said. "While in Sweden it took him about 24 hours before settling in so it was by no means a penalty kick."

European horses had won this race six straight years before American-based Bullard’s Alley ended the streak in 2017.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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