February 22, 2024

Johnny Bear topples Hawkbill; Quidura reigns on Woodbine turf

Johnny Bear (left) was running for a claiming tag as recently as March (Michael Burns/WEG)

There were odds-on favorites in both the $279,456 Northern Dancer Turf (G1) and $205,000 Canadian (G2) at Woodbine on Saturday, with mixed results.

In the 1 1/2-mile Northern Dancer Turf, a prep for next month’s Canadian International (G1), ex-claimer Johnny Bear caught 3-5 favorite Hawkbill on the wire to register a 9-1 upset for owners Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables, and trainer Ashlee Brnjas.

Last year’s winner of the prestigious Eclipse (G1) at Sandown, Hawkbill attempted to lead throughout. But even with a decided class advantage and sensible fractions of :26.09, :50.94, 1:15.74, 1:39.81, and 2:03.16, he couldn’t hold off the Ontario-bred Johnny Bear, who tracked in third most of the way under Luis Contreras and won by a head in a time of 2:27.30 on firm ground. Second choice Messi was another three parts of a length back in third.

“I was just thinking just stay behind [Hawkbill], 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.”

A six-year-old gelded son of English Channel, Johnny Bear paid $20.20. He was coming off his first stakes win in the restricted C$125,000 Halton over the same course and distance on August 30.

“I had faith in this horse, right from the beginning, and I didn’t give up on him,” said John Brnjas of Colebrook Farms. “He ran a great race in the Halton and I thought he deserved a shot in this.”

Johnny Bear’s record now stands at 33-7-7-5, $487,124. Bred by Tall Oaks Farm, Johnny Bear is out of the stakes-winning Horse Chestnut mare In Return, making him a full brother to Channel Maker, winner of the classic Breeders’ Stakes. This is also the family of Grade 1 winner Auntie Mame.

Things worked out better for Quidura in the about 1 1/8-mile Canadian. The 2-5 choice off placings in the Jenny Wiley (G1), New York (G2), and Diana (G1), Quidura got past Starship Jubilee inside the final furlong and won by a length for Gestuet Faehrhof, trainer Graham Motion, and jockey Junior Alvarado.

Winner of the Valley View (G3) at three last season, Quidura saved ground to the final turn, came off the rail and commenced her winning bid after splitting rivals. She paid $2.80 after completing the course in 1:45.26. Second choice Elysea’s World rallied to grab second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Starship Jubilee.

“I wanted to make sure I got cover,” Alvarado said. “Last time [in the Diana], we didn’t get the setup that I wanted to so this time I was trying to make sure I was going to get her cover.

“I knew I had horse. Any time I wanted to split horses or do something, I knew she was there for me so I wasn’t worried. We were pretty much just waiting to turn for home. Then I found my spot and after that she was there for me, gave me a nice kick.

“After that I just wrapped it up again, tried to save it for the next time.”

The four-year-old by Dubawi was bred in Great Britain but started her career in Germany. Out of the Acatenango mare Quetena and a half-sister to German highweights Querari and Quasillo, her connections have their sights set on a trip to San Diego rather than a return trip to Toronto for the E.P. Taylor (G1).

“I ran her here today because of the timing,” Motion said. “I really hope to take her to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup.”

Quidura, whose record now stands at 8-4-2-1, $499,777, counts as her second dam German highweight Quebrada, with her third dam being Grade 1 winner Queen to Conquer.