Just as Well was awarded victory in the $750,000 Northern Dancer Turf (Can-IT) (VIDEO) at Woodbine Sept. 20 when the winner, Marsh Side, was disqualified for interference in the stretch.
Following a lengthy inquiry, Ontario Racing Commission stewards decided that the Neil Drysdale trainee Marsh Side, clinging to a narrow lead under right-handed urging from jockey Javier Castellano approaching the sixteenth pole, impeded both Quijano to his immediate inside, and the favored Champs Elysees, rallying at the rail.
Marsh Side, who went on to win by a half-length, was placed fourth, behind Champs Elysees.
Just as Well, who charged on the outside from far back to get second, was not involved in the skirmish but benefited trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who owns the 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy, mightily. A few races earlier on the card, the Sheppard-trained female turf champion Forever Together lost by a nose in the Canadian Stakes (gr. IIT).
Original third-place finisher Quijano was moved up to second, with Champs Elysees placed third. The final time for the 1 1/2-mile event was an outstanding 2:26.68 on a firm course.
Marsh Side, who had taken the lead after stalking the runaway pacesetter Medjool in second, drifted in a couple of paths leaving the eighth pole, forcing Quijano, who was also under right-handed urging from jockey Andrasch Starke, toward the rail. Champs Elysees, ridden by Garrett Gomez, was making good ground along the inside, but the opening they exploited tightened quickly.
Gomez was forced to check sharply on Champs Elysees, who apparently escaped contact with Quijano and then angled out and finished willingly. Just as Well was still last with a quarter-mile to run and was blocked briefly mid-stretch as he came on for second.
Just as Well, bred by longtime Sheppard client Augustin Stable, is out of the 2000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. I) winner No Matter What. He ran second in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) after falling far out of it and making a big late charge Aug. 8. He employed similar tactics here when reunited with Julien Leparoux and appeared to handle the additional quarter-mile. He was making his first start at 12 furlongs.
Sheppard had mixed feelings about the result, which was Just as Well's first grade I win.
“I feel badly," he said. "Neil (Drysdale) is a good friend. He’s got an awfully good horse. He possibly was the best horse but he certainly beared across the course in the late stages.
“Even though we weren’t really the recipient of it, I give Julien a lot of credit because he easily could have been in the melee. I think he saw it coming up and managed to sneak out from behind them and have a clear run down the middle. The horse ran a superb race.”
Medjool, trained by Mark Casse, who also saddled Northern Dancer contender Marchfield, ensured a solid pace for the distance, running a half-mile in :49.73 and the mile in 1:39.34. Medjool's lead, as much as 6 1/2 lengths, shrunk quickly on the final turn as Marsh Side, winner of the Canadian International (Can-IT) over the course last fall, closed in.
Just as Well won the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) prior to the Million, his only win in seven previous starts this year. Overall, the dark bay horse has a 5-5-3 record in 19 races.
“We thought coming out of two consecutive 1 1/4 races where he was closing well that this is a good time to try him at the 1 1/2-mile (distance),” said Sheppard. “Julien got him settled very nicely. He relaxed for him and he came with his run. He probably just took a while extricating himself. If he had a clear run right when they first turned from home he maybe would have got there anyway.”
Sent off as the third choice in the field of nine, Just as Well paid $8.80, $4.50 and $3.50. The German invader Quijano, winner of the Gran Premio di Milano (It-I) in June, returned $7.10 and $3.90. Champs Elysees, the 5-2 choice, was $2.60 to show.
Marchfield was next, followed by Marlang, Cobotown Ron, Medjool and Solitaire. Musketier was scratched by the stewards.