NORTHERN DANCER TURF STAKES | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/2 MILES (TURF)
Mark B. Hawtin's globetrotting Wigmore Hall had endured an eight-race losing streak since his victory in last year's Grade 1, $518,465 Northern Dancer Turf, but a return to Woodbine for Sunday's renewal helped the English invader regain the winning thread. After a rousing stretch duel with Al Khali, the Michael Bell charge successfully defended his title by a hard-fought neck.
There was quite an air of deja vu about the result. The margin was the same, the winning rider was once again Jamie Spencer, and Al Khali had been a close third to Wigmore Hall in last year's running.
"He's one of my favorites," said Spencer, who gained compensation for losing the ride on Sunday's Grade 2 Canadian victress Barefoot Lady because he couldn't get down to 113 pounds. "He tries really hard."
"He loves Canada, especially," assistant trainer Gillian Dolman said. "He's not so great on the soft turf, but he loved the conditions here today."
Wigmore Hall was slowly away, and Spencer patiently allowed him to settle into stride as the marathon unfolded. Up front, Celtic Conviction set fractions of :50, 1:14 4/5 and 1:39 4/5 on the good turf, hounded all the way by an overeager Irish Mission. Al Khali, who had been nestled in midpack, improved his position nearing the final turn, and Wigmore Hall stealthily followed his advance.
Irish Mission took over rounding the far turn, reaching the 1 1/4-mile mark in 2:04 2/5, but the three-year-old filly was immediately challenged by Al Khali at the top of the stretch. She came up empty rather quickly and retreated, but Al Khali had a new fight on his hands, with Wigmore Hall already at his throatlatch.
Although Wigmore Hall looked ready to edge clear, Al Khali knuckled down along the inside, and the two jousted down the lane. Wigmore Hall responded to keep a narrow advantage, and finally saw off Al Khali to finish 1 1/2 miles in 2:28 1/5.
The late-running Forte Dei Marmi got up for third, one length behind Al Khali. Scalo reported home fourth, followed by Irish Mission, Musketier, Ojibway Signal and Celtic Conviction.
Wigmore Hall, a son of High Chaparral, boosted his bankroll to $1,952,830 from his 27-7-4-3 line. The bay gelding commenced his international travel as a three-year-old, finishing runner-up to Paddy O'Prado in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in 2010. He had previously placed in two stakes at home, just missing when second in the Newmarket Stakes and an unlucky third in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot.
In his 2011 debut, Wigmore Hall broke through with his first stakes victory in the Group 2 Jebel Hatta in Dubai, and went on to finish a troubled third in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free. Later that season, he met with trouble again en route to a better-than-appears fourth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million, but bounced back in the Northern Dancer Turf. He wrapped up his four-year-old season with a ninth in the Group 1 Champion Stakes.
Wigmore Hall had a problematic 2012 campaign until Sunday. He again started out in Dubai, winding up sixth as the defending champion in the Jebel Hatta (now upgraded to Group 1) and fourth in the Duty Free. A remote fourth in the Group 1 Prix Ganay on heavy ground at Longchamp, Wigmore Hall was a decent third on unsuitably soft going in the Group 3 Huxley at Chester in May. He was only ninth against domestic Group 1 rivals in the Prince of Wales's at Royal Ascot, and sixth in the Group 2 York Stakes on July 28, but had an excuse in the latter, where he was badly hampered.
For the third straight summer, Wigmore Hall visited Arlington Park, only to have his worst result yet -- a belatedly-closing seventh in the August 18 Arlington Million, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by the pacesetting Little Mike. But as happened 12 months ago, Arlington proved a perfect tune-up for Woodbine.
Bred by K. and Mrs. Cullen in Ireland, Wigmore Hall was sold for $56,407 as a Goffs November weanling and later commanded $109,015 as a Tattersalls October yearling. He is the first registered foal from the winning Theatrical mare Love and Laughter, a half-sister to French stakes victress Kissing the Camera.
Love and Laughter is out of Hoh Dear, winner of the Grade 3 Natalma at Woodbine in 1999. With Wigmore Hall's sixth dam being Sweet and Lovely, he comes from a productive family that includes French champion two-year-old colt and successful sire Common Grounds as well as German champion Warrsan and Italo-German champion Luso.
Appropriately, two-time Northern Dancer Turf hero Wigmore Hall is inbred 3 x 4 to Northern Dancer.