09/08/2008 12:00AM

Northern Dancer turned out to be quite a show


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Grade 1 Northern Dancer had been shaping up as the most competitive race on Sunday's Woodbine Mile card, and it did not disappoint.

Champs Elysees prevailed in a cavalry charge to the finish, scoring by a nose over Quijano as just one length separated the first five finishers in the $728,600 Northern Dancer at 1 1/2 miles on yielding turf.

Bobby Frankel, who trains the 5-year-old Champs Elysees, also was represented by the second-place finisher in the Woodbine Mile, the 4-year-old filly Ventura. Both horses are owned by Juddmonte Farms.

"It was a very good day," said Frankel, who was not present at Woodbine and enlisted his former assistant, Woodbine-based trainer Brian Lynch, to saddle both horses. "I was very happy."

The Grade 1 Northern Dancer was repositioned on the stakes schedule this year to serve as the major local stepping-stone to the Grade 1, $2 million Canadian International over the same distance and surface here Oct. 4.

"I'll probably run him back there," said Frankel.

While Champs Elysees was heading back to New York on Monday along with Ventura and the Rick Dutrow-trained pair of Kip Deville and Frost Giant, Quijano will be staying right here to prepare for the Canadian International.

Quijano, a 6-year-old gelding who was bred in Germany, finished a closing third in last year's Canadian International and had raced in Hong Kong, Dubai, Italy, and Germany before returning here early last Wednesday morning.

"He loves the turf course here," said Simon Stokes, racing manager for Gestut Farhot. "It looked a furlong out that we weren't going to get anything, then he came with his run on the inside. With one more stride to the finish, we would have been home."

Seaside Retreat, trained here by Mark Casse, ran a strong race to finish third, beaten a half-length for second, after leading with a furlong to go.

"Another horse came over on him at about the eighth pole," said Casse. "He lost a stride but started surging back, and galloped out strong.

"What was amazing was that after the race you would have thought he'd have been exhausted, but he wasn't at all. The horse has amazing endurance."

Seaside Retreat, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Will Farish Jr., also is scheduled to return in the Canadian International.

The major disappointments were Better Talk Now, who failed to fire and was beaten 5 1/4 lengths as the seventh-place finisher, and Frost Giant, who was in the hunt early but faltered badly to finish last.

Graham Motion, who trains Better Talk Now, said he had been told by rider Ramon Dominguez that his horse had encountered serious trouble just as he was set to make his run.

"Ramon said he clipped heels badly with Mike Smith's horse [Marsh Side] and lost all his momentum," said Motion. "He was adamant that he was completely compromised, and that he was traveling well to that point."

Motion will confer with Better Talk Now's owners, Bushwood Stable, before deciding on whether to return for the Canadian International.

Dutrow, who had sent out Frost Giant to win Belmont's Grade 1 Suburban in his previous start on the dirt, was slightly mystified by his horse's performance.

"I really don't know what happened," said Dutrow.

E.P. Taylor field shaping up

Trainer Todd Pletcher captured Sunday's Canadian in absentia as his assistant Ginny DePasquale sent out J'ray to score by a length in the Grade 2, $305,400 turf stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.

J'ray, a hard-knocking 5-year-old, is owned by Lawrence Goichman, who was visiting Woodbine for the first time.

The Canadian is the major local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for fillies and mares here Oct. 4. Like the Canadian International, the E.P. Taylor is part of the Breeders' Cup Win and You're In Program.

Forever Together, who finished a closing third as the 4-5 choice in the Canadian, has already been guaranteed a Breeders' Cup berth by virtue of her success in Saratoga's Diana and is unlikely to return here for the E.P. Taylor.

"This was a test run," said Jonathan Sheppard, Forever Together's trainer. "We wanted to see how she liked the course, and the soft ground you can get up here at this time of year.

"Right now, it looks like the E.P. Taylor wouldn't be the right place for her."

The Taylor, however, is a logical place for Callwood Dancer, who finished two lengths clear of Forever Together after taking the lead in deep stretch.

"I would think we'd belong there," said Roger Attfield, who trains the 4-year-old Callwood Dancer for Roger Attfield.

Sealy Hill, the fourth-place finisher in the Canadian, also is headed for the Taylor, in which she finished second last year.

Mark Casse, who trains Sealy Hill, said that jockey Patrick Husbands "said she was just galloping, but that when she got to within a half-length of the lead she started running over the horses inside her instead of going past them. He grabbed her, and she stopped running."

Casse plans to equip Sealy Hill with full-cup blinkers for the Taylor and try another change of bits.