Johnny Bear earned another Grade 1 win the hard way Saturday, closing against pressure to win his second Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf at Woodbine. Luis Contreras kept the 7-year-old gelding off the early pace of the 1 1/2-mile contest, stalking the pace in the early part of the final turn. Johnny Bear moved up the rail to face early leader Hawkbill (who lost last year's Northern Dancer by just a head), and bested closing efforts from Mekhtaal (GB) and English Illusion.
Owned in partnership with Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables, Ltd. Johnny Bear was a $278,822 yearling from the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (Ontario Division) September sale. He is a son of English Channel out of Horse Chestnut (SAF) mare In Return. He was bred by Tall Oaks Farm of Ontario.
Ashlee Brnjas trains Johnny Bear for her father John Brnjas (Colebrook Farms). The gelding, who once ran for a $40,000 claiming tag, gave the duo their first Grade 1 win in last year's edition of the race. Since then, he had not found the winner's circle, but did finish second in the Halton Stakes and third in the G2 Nijinsky.
John Brnjas said he believes the horse peaked again at just the right time.
“We were just peaking at the right time,” said Brnjas. “The last race he just got into a bit of trouble and was the best horse in the race without a doubt. Today we felt really good. The horse came in in great shape and Luis gave him a heck of a ride, I think.”
Brnjas expects Johnny Bear will go to the G1 Canadian International next year, depending upon the weather. He finished tenth in the race last year, which Brnjas attributes to the soft footing.
“He's always been special, we just had to wait for him a little bit,” said Brnjas, who believes gelding the horse made a lot of difference. “Finally we did cut him and I think turned his life around. I hope he just keeps going. It looks like he's getting better as he gets older.”
The final time was 2:25 3/5. Johnny Bear paid $35.80, $11.80 and $7.50. The exacta with Mekhtaal ($4.60, $3.80) returned $146.50.
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