Wigmore Hall fights off Al Khali to win the Northern Dancer Stakes.

Wigmore Hall fights off Al Khali to win the Northern Dancer Stakes.

Michael Burns

Wigmore Hall Earns Northern Dancer Repeat

Irish-bred gelding ends year-long winning streak, rallying from last at Woodbine.

Wigmore Hall, winless since last year's Northern Dancer Stakes Presented by Vtech (Can-IT), successfully defended his crown when he outfought favored Al Khali  in the homestretch by a neck over the Woodbine turf course Sept. 16 (VIDEO).

With Jamie Spencer back aboard in the $518,465 event, the 5-year-old Irish-bred son of High Chaparral snapped an eight-race losing streak for trainer Michael Bell and owner Mark B. Hawtin. Wignore Hall, sent off 7-2, trailed in the field of eight early before launching his winning bid.

Out of the Theatrical mare Love and Laughter, Wignore Hall tuned up for the 1 1/2-mile Northern Dancer with a seventh-place finish in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) Aug. 18. The bay gelding was bred by K and Mrs. Cullen.

Al Kahli finished second with an unlucky Forte Dei Marmi, hampered in traffic in upper stretch, settling for third. The final time was 2:28.28 over a turf course rated "good."

Eight contested the Northern Dancer with Al Khali, ridden by Garrett Gomez, made the lukewarm 3-1 pick after placing in the United Nations (gr. IT) and Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) stakes in his prior two races.

Wigmore Hall, off a bit slowly, settled toward the rear of the field for Spencer as 67-1 shot Celtic Conviction showed the way over the filly Irish Mission, racing just off the outsider's flanks. Celtic Conviction stepped the first half mile in :50.15 and still led at the mile point in 1:39.80. Irish Mission was up on the leader leaving the final bend and took the lead into the stretch.

The advantage would be short-lived, however, as the stalking Al Khali got a narrow edge in upper stretch. Wigmore Hall, gradually progressing to fourth at the quarter pole, chased the leaders through the lane to challenge Al Khali at the eighth pole. Those two battled it out to the wire with Wigmore Hall prevailing in a terrific finish under Spencer's encouragement.

"He's one of my favorites," praised Spencer afterward. "He tries really hard."

Spencer added, "Mayvbe he got there (to the lead) a little soon. He lost a little focus. But he got up. His team has gotten him back in good form. He hadn't won since this race last year. But that was the plan. We used the Arlington Million to get him ready but (the 1 1/4 miles) isn't quite his distance."

It was a nice comeback for Spencer, who lost a winning mount aboard Barefoot Lady in the Canadian Stakes (Can-IIT) earlier in the card when he could not make the 113-pounds weight assignment.

Al Kahli was second by one length over the Great Britain-bred Forte Dei Marmi, making up ground after getting clear for his late bid. Scalo was 2 3/4 lengths farther back in fourth, with Irish Mission, Musketier , Ojibway Signal, and Celtic Conviction completing the order.

The well-traveled Wigmore Hall had raced in England, the United Arab Emirates, and France before returning to the scene of his neck victory last year over Simmard. Al Khali was third in last year's Northern Dancer.

"He loves Canada, especially," said assistant trainer Gillian Dolman. "He's not so great on the soft turf, but he loved the conditions here today."

Wigmore Hall has now compiled a 7-4-3 mark in 27 lifetime starts. The winning purse of $308,610 extended the bay's career total to $1,953,066.

Toting co-high weight of 123 pounds, Wigmore Hall paid $9.40, $4.90, and $3.50 as the second favorite. Al Khali returned $4.50 and $3.10 while completing a $39.90 exacta. Forte Dei Marmi was worth $4 to show.