Defending champion Sky Conqueror heads a well-matched field of eight turf specialists Sunday in the $700,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf (Can-II) at Woodbine.
The second edition of the 1 1/2-mile turf event, named for Canada's most famous Thoroughbred, is worth $700,000, with $420,000 going to the winner. A field of eight is entered.
Bill Sorokolit's Sky Conqueror, who won the inaugural running of the Northern Dancer last year over Last Answer by a half-length, has been established as the 9-5 morning line favorite from post seven. The 5-year-old Canadian-bred son of Sky Classic, who will carry co-high weight weight of 124 pounds, is the field's leading money-winner with $1,409,225. He'll be handled for the first time by jockey Edgar Prado, who won an Eclipse Award last season as the continent's leading rider.
Trained by Darwin Banach, Sky Conqueror has won one of his three starts this year, scoring in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) May 5 at Churchill Downs, after stumbling at the start of the nine-furlong contest. He comes into the Northern Dancer off a second-place finish, a nose behind Eccentric, in the King Edward Breeders' Cup (Can-II) at Woodbine on July 2. Overall, the Sorokolit homebred, voted a Sovereign Award last year as Canada's top male turf horse, has won five of his 10 turf outings at Woodbine.
"I am very excited about post seven," said Banach. "When we were in the Canadian International (last October), we were in the one-hole and we got jammed going into the first turn. Hopefully, this will eliminate that problem. We won the Woodford from post seven, so it can't be that bad."
Kingfield Racing Stable's Jambalaya, trained and owned by Catherine Day-Phillips, is also a grade I winner, having scored in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup on Feb. 24, defeating Honey Ryder and Einstein in the process. A $2,500 yearling purchase by Phillips, Jambalaya, a 5-year-old Canadian-bred son of Langfuhr , has since amassed just over $1 million in his 19-race career.
To be ridden for the fourth consecutive time by Javier Castellano, Jambalaya also enters the Northern Dancer from the King Edward, when he finished a scant nose and a neck behind Eccentric and Sky Conqueror. He'll carry 124 pounds as well and is the second choice at 7-2 from post two.
California-based trainer Neil Drysdale, who has enjoyed immense success at Woodbine, winning three Woodbine (Atto) Mile (Can-I) tests, has entered French-bred Obrigado for the Northern Dancer. Winner of the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita in February, the 4-year-old gelding, co-owned by Montreal native Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler, most recently finished third to After Market and Lava Man in the Charles Whittingham Memorial (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park on June 9.
Obrigado, the 4-1 third choice under 121 pounds, will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, the continent's leading money-winning rider with over $11 million in purse earnings so far in 2007.
Gary Tanaka's venerable Pellegrino most recently won the 12-furlong Singspiel Stakes on June 24 at Woodbine, his seventh career win in 36 outings. The 8-year-old Brazilian-bred, who counts the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) in 2004 as his biggest score, will be ridden by Jono Jones for trainer Roger Attfield.
The Northern Dancer is one of four added-money events on Sunday's Woodbine card. In addition to the $125,000 Ontario Matron Stakes and $125,000 Bold Venture Stakes, the $300,000 Dance Smartly Stakes (Can-II) will feature Arravale, Canada's 2006 Horse of the Year, making her seasonal bow in the 1 1/8-mile turf event for fillies and mares.
$700,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes (Can-II, Race 9, 5:08 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Marsh Side (KY), Emma-Jayne Wilson, 117, 10/1
2. Jambalaya (ON), Javier Castellano, 124, 7/2
3. The Carbon Unit (KY), Garry Cruise, 117, 20/1
4. Pellegrino (BRZ), Jono C. Jones, 119, 8/1
5. Last Answer (ON), Emile Ramsammy, 117, 20/1
6. French Beret (ON), Todd Kabel, 117, 10/1
7. Sky Conqueror (ON), Edgar S. Prado, 124, 9/5
8. Obrigado (FR), Garrett K. Gomez, 121, 4/1