Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables' Johnny Bear just got his nose in front of 3-5 favorite Hawkbill to win Saturday's Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf at Woodbine Racecourse. At odds of 9-1, the 6-year-old son of English Channel covered 12 furlongs over the firm turf in 2:28.34 under jockey Luis Contreras. It was the first graded stakes win for both Johnny Bear and trainer Ashlee Brnjas.
“I was just thinking just stay behind the eight-horse, and follow him as much as I can, and wait for the end to make my move,” said Contreras of his winning trip. “It worked perfect.”
Hawkbill was bred in Kentucky but has raced exclusively overseas, winning the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse Stakes in 2016. The Northern Dancer was his first start in North America, and he strode out to an uncontested lead through comfortable fractions of :26.58, :51.83, 1:16.51, and 1:40.52 before jockey Colm O'Donoghue had to ask him for run. Johnny Bear had been traveling at the rail in third position about three lengths behind Hawkbill, but got up on the inside to take second around the far turn.
Contreras angled Johnny Bear to the outside and kept on riding all the way down Woodbine's long stretch, and with Hawkbill crying out for the wire in the final sixteenth, Johnny Bear was just able to get his nose in front for the photo finish. Messi came from mid-pack to nab third, while Seeking Albert ran on to finish fourth.
“I had faith in this horse, right from the beginning, and I didn't give up on him,” said John Brnjas. “When I entered him in the Northern Dancer, the Bear [Bear Stable's Danny Dion] said, 'Are you kidding me?' I hope he's happy now. He ran a great race in the Halton and I thought he deserved a shot in this.”
Bred in Ontario by Tall Oaks Farm, Johnny Bear was a $278,823 yearling at the Canadian September sale. The Northern Dancer was his 33rd career start, and marked his second consecutive victory after a listed stake on Aug. 30 at Woodbine. Overall, Johnny Bear's record stands at 7-7-5 for earnings of nearly $500,000.
“We fought hard for this horse, because when we got him he was a nice horse, but he was the equivalent of a marshmallow,” said Ashlee Brnjas. “It took a long time for him to develop, and we stuck it out, and it was the right decision.”
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