WEEKEND STAKES: WHERE TO WATCH brought to you by KBC Horse Supplies
The only North American Grade 1 action of the weekend takes place north of the border at Woodbine on Sunday when seasoned turf specialists compete in a pair of rich stakes: the $750,000 Northern Dancer Turf presented by VTECH, at 1 1/2 miles and the $1-million Woodbine Mile over eight furlongs.
Both races will be shown exclusively on TVG, the Northern Dancer scheduled at 4:34 p.m. Eastern and the Woodbine Mile at 5:42 p.m.
While the Woodbine Mile offers the richest purse, the Northern Dancer comes up as a more competitive field in my book. Each race has attracted a field of 10.
Champs Elysees, a 6-year-old son of Danehill, bids for a repeat in the Northern Dancer, but the competition is rich in talent and experience. Marchfield, a son of A.P. Indy, just defeated Champs Elysees in the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes at Woodbine going 1 3/8 miles on Aug. 23. Just as Well, another won of A.P. Indy, made a run at turf division leader Gio Ponti but could do no better than second in last monthâ€™s Grade 1 Arlington Million. Marsh Side won last yearâ€™s Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine at the same 12-furlong distance, and the globe-trotting 7-year-old German-bred Quijano was second, beaten a nose by Champs Elysees in last yearâ€™s Northern Dancer.
The Woodbine Mile features a rematch of last yearâ€™s one-two finishers, Rahyâ€™s Attorney and Ventura, but Bribon, winner of this yearâ€™s Metropolitan Mile Handicap on the Belmont Park dirt, makes it interesting as he tries turf for the first time. Another horse that canâ€™t be counted out is the 3-year-old Grand Slam colt, Grand Adventure, unbeaten in three starts on the Woodbine Turf but 10th in his only other race, the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last fall.
Ventura, a 5-year-old mare by Chester House, has compiled a remarkable record of consistency for trainer Bobby Frankel and owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms. She has finished first or second in 15 of 18 lifetime starts, and while her best distance may be seven furlongs, she is a Grade 1 winner on turf going a mile.
The Woodbine stakes are far from being the only races worth watching. Saturdayâ€™s Futurity (4:43 p.m.) and Matron (5:15 p.m.) on HRTV and TVG are important 2-year-old races, and the same afternoonâ€™s $750,000 Super Derby (6:12 p.m., HRTV) marks the return of UAE Derby winner Regal Ransom for the red-hot Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.