Canada-based horses fared very well on Woodbine Mile Day on Saturday, with Johnny Bear capping a two-win graded stakes day for those stabled at the Toronto oval with an exhilarating win in the Northern Dancer Stakes (Can-G1).
Trained by Ashlee Brnjas for Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables, Johnny Bear had been winless in six tries since winning this race last year over familiar foe Hawkbill. The seven-year-old gelding just missed last out in the August 29 Halton Stakes after an uneasy start, but had the Northern Dancer in hand inside the sixteenth-pole under Luis Contreras.
“This was one of my best trips around the track,” Contreras said of the ground-saving trip and rail move to get the jump on runner-up Mekhtaal. “Turning for home my first thought was to go to the outside, but at the last second I changed my mind and I didn’t see anybody coming on the rail. I saw the rail was a little bit open, and he just went through like a knife through butter.”
The win was Johnny Bear’s eighth from 40 career starts and pushes his lifetime earnings to nearly $700,000.
“I love this horse; he tries so hard every time,” Contreras said.
Mekhtaal was runner-up for the second time this summer at Woodbine, previously having finished behind Tiz a Slam but in front of Johnny Bear in the Nijinsky Stakes (Can-G2) most recently on July 22. He made a bold move to get into contention in the Northern Dancer, but Johnny Bear had gotten the jump and given Mekhtaal the slip.
“I followed Johnny Bear the whole way, and it seemed like he was full of horse the whole way, so that’s why I followed him,” Jose Ortiz said of his trip on Mekhtaal. “He dived in; I went out. He through on the rail, and I got out. If he didn’t get through I probably could have won it, but he got through; it was a good ride by him.”
If last year’s schedule is any indication, then Johnny Bear will return for the Canadian International (Can-G1) in October at Woodbine.
English Illusion finished third and Markitoff fourth to complete an $8,762.40 superfecta ($1).
The biggest local disappointment was Canadian Horse of the Year Pink Lloyd faltering at odds on after breaking through the gate in the Bold Venture Stakes (Can-G3).