Although it’s a Grade I race with a $300,000 purse, Saturday’s Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine doesn’t have a rich history of producing Breeders’ Cup Turf champions. In fact, it has no history, as nary a winner of the race has gone on to BC glory (although Chief Bearhart did capture the race a year after his 1998 Breeders’ Cup score).
Nonetheless, the roster of past winners is impressive. In addition to the aforementioned Chief Bearhart, the list of Northern Dancer champions includes The Pizza Man, Sky Conqueror (twice) and Champ Elysees.
This year, an interesting cast of eight has been assembled, led by the likely odds-on choice Hawkbill.
A son of Kitten’s Joy, Hawkbill was last seen finishing second to Dschingis Secret in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten in Berlin, Germany. Over the past 10 years, four horses entered the Northern Dancer after having last raced overseas — two of them won and one (Quijano) was beaten by a nose.
The Godolphin runner is the only Group/Grade I winner in the field and boasts a best Racing Post Rating (a speed/performance figure) of 121, which is nine points superior to anything else in the field. He also figures to get a great trip either on or stalking the pace.
Among the rest of the field, I am somewhat intrigued by Johnny Bear, who recorded a lifetime-best 104 Brisnet Speed Figure in winning the ungraded Halton Stakes in his last start — his first at 12 furlongs or longer. He has a stalking style and could pick up the pieces should the big favorite falter.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Messi, the H. Graham Motion trainee named after international soccer great Lionel Messi. Although lacking the star power of his namesake, Messi, the horse, has performed admirably in top company, especially in races lacking pace, like the Northern Dancer.
My Selections: 8-7-4.