Northerly Defends Underwood Stakes Title

Northerly became the first horse in 40 years to successfully defend an Underwood Stakes (Aust-I) at Caulfield on Sept. 22. And after his head defeat of Magical Miss, handler Fred Kersley hinted that the 6 year-old grandson of Nijinsky II might eschew a defense of the W.S. Cox Plate (Aust-I) on Oct. 26.

The wily Kersley didn't actually say Northerly wouldn't attempt a repeat of the career high success in last year's Cox, snapping a threepeat effort by champion New Zealand distaffer Sunline in Australia's all-aged set-weight championship. But the $3 million (Australian funds) Cox at 2,040 meters is run just seven days after the $2.5 million Caulfield Cup, a handicap at 2,400 meters.

Tobin Bronze won both in 1967 -- at his final two starts before leaving for North America. The precious few to follow the champion's lead haven't come anywhere near close.

Northerly long ago galloped past the point when he was generally described as a horse with character, perhaps as much as his veteran trainer, who learned his craft with harness horses.

A second Underwood to Northerly was fitting as he's the best out of Western Australia since Aquanita, a wonderful black pugalist four decades earlier. Aquanita wasn't eligible for the Australian Stud Book but was better than almost all listed in the 1950s.

Northerly, like his Perth predecessor, is also six but has only raced 24 times for earnings of more than $2.25 million, from 14 wins 4 seconds and 2 thirds. Ten of his wins are at graded level and another two listed. At group I he has six wins and two seconds from nine attempts.

Yet in holding out Magical Miss, Northerly surprised us anew with his courage. Last year's 1,000 Guineas and Victoria Oaks (both Aust-I) winner gave him too big a start, but the Danehill filly had her chance to run him down. They were four lengths clear of Don Eduardo, the Australian Derby (Aust-I) winner's first glimpse of form at four coming at his third run back. He's heading to Caulfield, but Magical Miss's trainer Bart Cummings, like Kersley, is playing the cards close to his chest.

Greg Childs, associated with Sunline since she was three, is now four-for-four on Northerly. Damien Oliver, who partnered the Serheed son in the Cox last year, is still waiting his chance to get back into the saddle.

Sunline and Childs will attempt a 14th group I success Sept. 28. The 7 year-old winner of $12 million started her final season on the track with a grade II homeland win over 1,400 meters at Hawkes Bay on Aug. 24.

The George Main Stakes (Aust-I) over the Randwick mile promises to be a much sterner test. Her rivals are likely to include 4-1 Cox favorite Lonhro, the rampaging Defier (by Dehere) and Shogun Lodge -- who ran her to a half head in the $2.5 million Doncaster Handicap (Aust-I) at Randwick in the fall.

Tit For Taat, the Faltaat son who finished second to Sunline at Hastings last month, attempted Underwood support, the Dubai Racing Club Cup (Aust-I), but faded after supplying the pace.

At the wire, a late charge out wide enabled 11-1 chance Pernod to win by three-quarters of a length from 7-2 favorite Bel Esprit (by Royal Academy). Royal Code was a farther neck away in third and had little luck in a field of 18 shoe-horned into the 1,400 meters start. Pernod was the fourth winner for the day for Kerrin McEvoy. The 21 year-old shot to fame in winning on the also Michael Moroney-trained Brew in the 2000 Melbourne Cup.