Bill Sorokolit's Sky Conqueror rallied to get the lead a furlong from home, then rolled to 1 1/2-length victory, making it back-to-back wins in the first two runnings of the CAN$698,200 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf (Can-II) (VIDEO) Sunday on the Woodbine turf.
Flashing a tremendously impressive stretch kick, 6-5 choice Sky Conqueror took over from his rival Jambalaya mid-stretch, then was hand-ridden by Eclipse Award winner Edgar Prado to the wire to post a comfortable triumph timed in 2:27.45 for the 12-furlong distance on a firm course.
Marsh Side, ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson for trainer Michael Dickinson, rallied gamely on the inside in his seasonal debut, edging Jambalaya and Javier Castellano by a half-length for second.
The homebred 5-year-old son of Sky Classic successfully defended his Northern Dancer title after winning the inaugural running last year by a half-length over Last Answer.
The winner, trained by Darwin Banach, is related to the race's namesake. Sky Conqueror's sire is a son of Nijinsky, who in turn was a son of Canada's most famous Thoroughbred.
French Beret set some soft early fractions -- :25.45, :50.75 and 1:14.79-- while being tracked by Last Answer. Meanwhile, Prado, riding Sky Conqueror for the first time, had the chestnut well reserved near the back of the pack in seventh, patiently waiting to make his patented stretch charge.
When the field turned for home, Last Answer took over from French Beret but was immediately challenged by Jambalaya, who briefly poked his head in front. But Sky Conqueror was rolling down the middle of the turf course, got to the front effortlessly, and coasted to the wire.
"I was a very lucky passenger all the way around," said Prado of Canada's top male turf horse in 2006. "He broke running out of the gate, and I saw a couple of horses go on early; so I just let him do his own thing. He was very happy at the back of the pack. But every time I asked him for something, he responded right away. That gave me a great feeling. I kind of showed him the stick at the top of the stretch, and he just took off. I would love to stay on him as long as I can."
It was quite a successful day for Prado, who came up from New York to ride in several stakes at Woodbine. Earlier, he scored aboard Masseuse in the CAN$300,000 Dance Smartly Stakes (Can-II), defeating May Night by a nose. And just for good measure, he also rode Sorokolit's The Queen's Stamp to victory in an allowance finale, also on the turf.
It was the second win in four starts this year for Sky Conqueror, who in May won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs after going to his knees at the start of the 1 1/8-mile event. He also came into today's feature as the field's leading money winner, with over $1.4 million. He earned CAN$420,000 Sunday.
In his last outing at Woodbine on July 2, he'd just missed winning the nine-furlong King Edward (Can-II), finishing a nose behind winner Eccentric.
"I was happy to see him sitting just a little bit closer (to the pace)," said Banach. "He made a nice move and got to the front. Once he made front, I was pretty happy where we were at. It wasn't quite as heart-skipping this time."
"It makes me very nervous to be the favorite, the pressure is on you," added owner-breeder Sorokolit. "But he came through. He's a very honest horse, the best I've ever had. I liked the idea he was laying a little closer today. He ran a helluva race."
Banach was non-committal regarding Sky Conqueror's next outing, but mentioned three possibilities -- the Arlington Million (gr. IT) in Chicago on Aug. 11, the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) at Saratoga on the same day, or the Nijinsky Stakes (Can-II) at Woodbine on Aug. 26. "We're not going to put our cards on the table until it's time, though," he said.
Sky Conqueror has now won six of his 11 outings on the Woodbine turf.
As the 6-5 choice, Sky Conqueror returned $4.50, $3.20, and $2.30, combining with Marsh Side ($9.30, $4.50) for a $59.60 exacta. Jambalaya ($2.70) rounded a trifecta worth $128.80. A $1 superfecta, with Last Answer, fashioned a $618.55 payout.
Last Answer was followed by Southern California invader Obrigado, who was never a threat at odds of 3-1, The Carbon Unit, Pellegrino, and French Beret.
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