Sunday, September 16, 2012

Can Wigmore Hall defend his Northern Dancer title?

On a Breeders' Cup ‘Win & You're In’ weekend where the Ricoh Woodbine Mile is the focal point, a handy little race - - the Grade 1 Northern Dancer - - flies under the radar. The 1 1/2-mile jaunt over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, named for one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history, features a field of eight and kicks off a challenging $200,000 Late Pick 4 at Woodbine.

Can Wigmore Hall repeat in the Northern Dancer?

Favoured in the event is the German invader Scalo. The dark bay son of Lando-Sky Dancing is a Group 1 winner and has the benefit of a run over the turf course last month in the 1 1/4-mile Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes when second to fellow Northern Dancer combatant Forte Dei Marmi. Scalo should benefit from the additional distance in this race.

Let's take a look at the field:

1 / Celtic Conviction / Jesse Campbell / Mike Doyle / 20-1

The Mike Doyle trainee posted the highest Beyer Speed Figure of his career, an 89, when second (placed third through DQ) in the Breeders' Stakes to Pender Harbour last year. The Sam-Son Farm bred son of Strut the Stage loves soft turf, but will find this open field to be much more difficult to handle than his latest effort when third in the restricted Halton Stakes - - admittedly, off an extended freshening. He has a right to improve off that effort, but I'd want it to be raining cats and dogs for Celtic Conviction to cross the wire first.

2 / Ojibway Signal / Luis Contreras / David Bell / 20-1

This four-year-old Ontario-bred son of Niigon is a winner at the distance, but steps into graded company for the first time. His trainer, David Bell, is enjoying an excellent campaign and he's 4 for 12 on the turf. Luis Contreras will be charged with setting a slow, steady pace with Ojibway Signal but he'll face a significant class test when he turns for home. He'll run all day, I'm just not sure he's quick enough to compete with this crew.

3 / Al Khali / Garrett Gomez / Bill Mott / 3-1

Poor Al Khali. He never gets a clean trip. His comment lines are tragic - angled three wide; pulled, steadied; stumbled start; off heels - but the six-year-old has banked nearly $900,000 through 32 lifetime starts and will definitely be a factor down the lane. As an out and out closer, I'd be happier if there was more for Al Khali to close into, but the addition of rider Garrett Gomez, a strong finisher, gives me confidence that big fellow will hit the board.

4 / Scalo / Umberto Rispoli / Andreas Woehler 2-1

A deserving favourite, Scalo is two for five at the distance and seems to run on any type of going with a Group 1 win over yielding turf and a solid third-place run over a firm Woodbine turf last time out. His regular rider sees fit to travel for the mount and is strictly the one to beat. For a class reference, note the second place effort on July 24 when second to last year's Arc de Triomphe winner, Danedream.

5 / Forte Dei Marmi / Alex Solis / Roger Attfield / 8-1

At 8-1 on the morning line, Forte Dei Marmi offers quite the price for a horse that has winning form over the favoured Scalo. The knock against the Roger Attfield trainee is that he's never travelled the 1 1/2-mile distance. The Hall of Fame conditioner has never won this race and he'll have two shots at it (he also trains Musketier) on Sunday. It would seem that the added distance shouldn't be a problem for the son of champion miler Selkirk and note the recent bullet work on September 7 getting ready for this event. If he gets the distance, he'll be one of many in here looking for pace to close into.

Musketier enjoys the view on the Woodbine backstretch
6 / Musketier / John Velazquez / Roger Attfield / 5-2

How can you not love this 10-year-old graded stakes winner? The handsome fellow spends his mornings turned out in trainer Roger Attfield's yard, where he watches the morning workers breeze over the dirt training track, with his trademark teddy bear. More than just a fan favourite, Musketier can flat out run. He's six for 17 at the distance and has hit the board (1-1-1) in three of four starts this year including a win in the Grade 3 Singspiel Stakes over firm going at the 1 1/2-mile distance. Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez gets the call. He has the ability to race closer to the pace and that might benefit him against a field of deep closers.

7 / Wigmore Hall / Jamie Spencer / Michael Bell 6-1

You get 6-1 on last year's Northern Dancer winner Wigmore Hall. Reason being, the five-year-old High Chapparal gelding is winless in seven starts this year. Granted, he's been in tough company with five of those races coming at the top graded level. Last time out, the Michael Bell trainee was off slowly in the Grade 1 Arlington Million and closed to finish seventh, defeated just 3 1/2 lengths. Compromised by the poor start, he never really had a chance. Jamie Spencer is here to ride and I wouldn't be surprised to see him earn his first win of the season.
Will a weight advantage make a difference for Irish Mission?

8 / Irish Mission / Justin Stein / Mark Frostad / 10-1

There are a few strikes against Irish Mission winning this event. 1. She's a filly taking on the boys. 2. She's a three-year-old taking on older horses. 3. She's moving from restricted racing in the Canadian classics to an open event. Those are some pretty serious reasons to bet against the giant 17-hand filly known by the barn name of 'Biggins.' However, the chestnut has proven to be a very classy girl on the turf with two wins in five starts including a score at this distance against the boys. It's worth noting that she gets away with a feather-light 109lbs (she's used to carrying 121 lbs) in this event, which is a significant break compared to the rest of this field. She's yet another deep closer, but has shown ability earlier this year to race near the pace.


1. Scalo

2. Musketier

3. Irish Mission

There is no shortage of ‘Woodbine Mile’ info on the race microsite. The Grade 1 Win & You're In event has attracted a field of nine and, on appearance, I really like the look of Euro invader Cityscape. The good-looking chestnut arrives at the mile, Race 10 (5:42 EST) on the card, off an impressive second-place run against Excelebration in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville. He prefers firmer ground and if the weather cooperates, I'll make a play on the six-year-old son of Selkirk to beat expected odds-on favourite Wise Dan.

Woodbine Mile Selections:

1. Cityscape

2. Wise Dan

3. Dance And Dance

Good luck today!!

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