Strong Field Lines Up For Northern Dancer
Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Champs Elysees is back to defend his title in the $750,000 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes Presented by Vtech (Can-IT), but will have to take down a deep field of turf routers Sept. 20 at Woodbine, including Melynk Racing Stables’ Marchfield , who defeated the 6-year-old horse last month over the same course.
Also in the 1 1/2-mile contest is 124-pound high weight Quijano, a grade I winner in Italy this season and runner-up in the Northern Dancer last year, as well as Marsh Side , Just As Well, and Musketier , all of them close runner-ups to the nation’s leading turf horse, Gio Ponti , in grade I races earlier this season. The Northern Dancer is the second of three graded stakes on a card highlighted by the $1-million Woodbine Mile (Can-IT).
Trained by Bobby Frankel, Champs Elysees won the 2008 Northern Dancer by a nose over Quijano after making a big move in the lane. Eighth in the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) in November, Champs Elysees completed his terrific season with a victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT), also at 1 1/2 miles, in December.
But the son of Danehill hasn’t been as effective in 2009, going winless in five starts, the last three on turf. Champs Elysees’ was runner-up to Einstein in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March on the Pro-Ride surface and was beaten a half-length by Marchfield in the Aug. 23 Sky Classic (Can-IIT).
Garrett Gomez, aboard for last season’s Northern Dancer triumph, flies into Toronto for the mount. Champs Elysees, who is out of the Kahyasi mare Hasili, has earned nearly $1.7 million from 27 starts.
Marchfield, who skipped the Northern Dancer last year, is having a fine second-half season for trainer Mark Casse. The 5-year-old A.P. Indy horse won the Dominion Day Handicap (Can-III) in July on the Woodbine Polytrack and was a strong runner-up in the Nijinsky Stakes (Can-IIT) later that month on grass when finishing nearly six lengths ahead of third-place Champs Elysees. He scored a huge win in the 1 3/8-mile Sky Classic Stakes (Can-II) after coming from off the pace. That last win made Marchfield a millionaire.
Regular rider Patrick Husbands draws the mount and they will break from post 9.
Gestut Fahrhof’s Quijano was making his second North American start last year when just missing in the Northern Dancer. The gelded son of Acatenango came back to finish a disappointing ninth in the Pattison Canadian International Stakes (Can-I) the following month and was then shipped off to Dubai where he finished runner-up in a grade II event in March. In July, Quijano scored the 1 1/2-mile Gran Premio Di Milano (Ity-I) by a length for trainer Peter Schiergen.
Since returning to North America, Quijano was third to Gio Ponti in the Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont in July and sixth in the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) Aug. 15 at Saratoga in his most recent start. Regular rider Andrasch Starke flies in for the mount on the international earner of more than $2.3 million.
Just As Well, a 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, seems to be in the best form of his career after winning the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) on July 11, then finishing a strong second to Gio Ponti at 19-1 in the Aug. 8 Arlington Million (gr. IT). Also runner-up in the grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap this winter, Just As Well will make his Woodbine debut. Julien Leparoux will have the mount.
Robert Evans’ Marsh Side was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Gio Ponti two starts ago in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont. The Gone West horse was a disappointing sixth, again to Gio Ponti, in the Man o’ War last out. The Neil Drysdale trainee won the Canadian International a year ago, one start after finishing fourth, beaten just three parts of a length in the Northern Dancer.
Also not to be discounted is Roger Attfield trainee Musketier , who won the Singspiel (Can-IIIT) in his Woodbine debut in June. He was beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Gio Ponti in the Man o’ War. Rafael Bejarano will be in the irons.
$750,000 Northern Dancer (Can-IT, Race 8, 4:34 p.m.), 3-Years-Olds and Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
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