Race Recaps

Johnny Bear Defends Title in G1 Northern Dancer Turf

Michael Burns Photo

TORONTO, ON – Winless in six tries since pulling the upset in last year’s edition, Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables’ Johnny Bear launched a determined stretch drive mirroring his 2017 effort to get up just in time and win Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine.

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Breaking from post 4 under Luis Contreras at odds of 16/1, Johnny Bear sat in midpack early while the 9/5 favorite Hawkbill (second to Johnny Bear last year) posted initial fractions of :24.24, :49.26, 1:13.20, and 1:36.89 through the opening mile. Running closer to the pacesetter through the far turn, Johnny Bear straightened for home still looking for room. In the final 1/4 mile, a hole appeared along the rail, and Contreras pushed his steed through it. The Ashlee Brnjas trainee fought gamely along the inside of new leader Tiz a Slam and took command inside the final furlong, then held off a late rally from Mekhtaal to win by a 1/2-length in a final time of 2:25.74 for the 1 1/2-mile marathon over the firm turf course.

“It was a perfect trip,” said Contreras, who also won the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes two races earlier on the card. “I saved all the ground, so nice and relaxed behind the speed, and I was just waiting for my moment. This was one of my best trips around the track. Turning for home, my first thought was to go 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.”

English Illusion rallied late to finish a 1/2-length behind Mekhtaal in third while simultaneously nosing out Markitoff, with Patterson Cross a neck back in fifth. Tiz a Slam gave way late and finished sixth, while Vexatious took seventh ahead of a spent Hawkbill. Utmost and Seeking Albert completed the order of finish.

“He got harried by the other horse (Tiz a Slam) the whole race,” said Hawkbill’s jockey Jamie Spencer. “It ruined his race and mine.”

Johnny Bear’s win improved his record to 40-8-8-6 with earnings of $689,265. As he did last year, the 7-year-old gelded son of English Channel will likely target next month’s Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes, though his connections will hope that he finishes better than 10th this time.

“He’s quite a horse,” said John Brnjas of Colebrook Stable. “I wish I had a barnful of them.”

Johnny Bear returned $35.80 to win, $11.80 to place, and $7.50 to show. Mekhtaal brought back $4.60 to place and $3.80 to show, while English Illusion paid $10.10 to show.

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