09/01/2008 11:00PM

Stars align in new calendar


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine made a significant change in its stakes schedule this year when it moved the Northern Dancer onto the same card as the Woodbine Mile.

Whether that shuffle will pay off will be known Sunday after Woodbine concludes a blockbuster program that also includes the Canadian Stakes.

The first two runnings of the $750,000 Northern Dancer, a 1 1/2-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and upward, had been held in the third week of July.

This year's Northern Dancer, a Grade 1 for the first time, will serve as the major local prep for the Grade 1 Canadian International, a $2 million race for the same set over the same course and distance here Oct. 4.

And, if the prospective field for the Northern Dancer holds firm, with Grade or Group 1 winners Better Talk Now, Quijano, Cloudy's Knight, and Frost Giant among the leading candidates as of Tuesday morning, this edition will be the strongest yet.

"I think it's a really good race," said Steve Lym, racing secretary and director of racing for Woodbine Entertainment Group. "Changing the date, so that it fell five weeks after the Arlington Million and four weeks before the Canadian International, has clearly helped the race. It just fits better."

The Woodbine Mile, also a Grade 1 turf race, will not match the Northern Dancer in depth but is its equal in star quality with the presence of Kip Deville, who finished second to Shakespeare in last year's renewal.

"I love having Kip Deville here," said Lym. "Did he stop a few other horses from coming? Sure, I think he did. But to have a Breeders' Cup winner running at Woodbine is great."

Kip Deville was the 29th horse in the Woodbine Mile's 11-year history to go on to contest the Breeders' Cup Mile and the second to win the race. Silic was the first, in 1999.

Leroidesanimaux, Touch of the Blues, and Geri all followed up their Woodbine Mile victories with second-place finishes in their Breeders' Cup Mile appearances. Good Journey and Labeeb, also Woodbine Mile winners, went on the finish third in their Breeders' Cup Miles.

All of which underlines the fact that the Woodbine Mile is a key prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile, which will be run at Santa Anita this year on Oct. 25.

Trainer Rick Dutrow had circled the Woodbine Mile as Kip Deville's major stepping-stone in his bid for a Breeders' Cup Mile repeat early this year.

"It's a mile, and it's for a lot of money," said Dutrow. "The timing is great, and the course is great."

Kip Deville comes into the Woodbine Mile unbeaten in two starts this season, both over one mile of turf: the Grade 1 Maker's Mark at Keeneland on April 11 and the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont on July 13.

"He's a better horse right now than he was last year," said Dutrow.

Bobby Frankel, who trained Leroidesanimaux and also won the 2000 Woodbine Mile with Riviera, will be tackling Kip Deville with Ventura, a 4-year-old filly who began her career in Europe and has found her niche as a turf miler in North America.

Ventura is coming off a close second-place finish in the Grade 2 CashCall Mile on the Hollywood Park turf after winning the Grade 1 Just a Game over the same distance and surface at Belmont.

Barring any late developments, the balance of the Woodbine Mile field will consist of five locally based horses.

Meanwhile, if Better Talk Now joins Kip Deville here, his appearance would make for the first time that more than one previous Breeders' Cup winner has run on a card at Woodbine.

Better Talk Now, a 9-year-old gelding trained by Graham Motion, won the Breeders' Cup Turf at Lone Star Park in 2004.

Following Better Talk Now's second-place finish in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga on Aug. 16, his trainer, Graham Motion, identified the Canadian International as his next target, but an interim appearance in the Northern Dancer could be added to the program.

"Right now, we're leaning that way," said Motion on Tuesday morning. "The only concern I would have is it would be the first time in years that I ran him back in three weeks. But, the fact that we're considering it is a measure of how good he's doing."

Cloudy's Knight and Quijano, the first- and third-place finishers in last year's Canadian International, come into the Northern Dancer in different modes.

Cloudy's Knight, an 8-year-old gelding who is trained in Illinois by Frank Kirby, has been a disappointment in three starts this year and will be looking to rediscover his magic touch over Woodbine's turf course, where he also won last year's Grade 2 Sky Classic and finished second in the Grade 2 Nijinsky.

Quijano, a 6-year-old gelding, is returning to Woodbine at the top of his game, following a win in the Group 1 Premio di Milano in Italy and a second-place finish in the Group 1 Deutschland-Preis in Germany.

Frost Giant, trained by Dutrow, became a Grade 1 winner in his last start, the June 28 Suburban on the dirt at Belmont. He won a pair of Group 3 races competing on the turf in Europe.

Champs Elysees and Strike a Deal are other horses based in the United States who are scheduled to contribute to a Northern Dancer worthy of its name, with the locally based Seaside Retreat a legitimate threat to hold the fort against all comers.

The $300,000 Canadian, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares that has been the longtime companion feature to the Woodbine Mile, is the major local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on the same course here Oct. 4.

The last two runners-up in the Canadian, both locally-based, have gone on to fare well in the E.P. Taylor with Arravale winning the Taylor in 2006 and Sealy Hill finishing an unlucky second to the formidable French invader Mrs. Lindsay last year.

Sealy Hill will be back this year but could face some serious opposition in the form of American shippers, including Forever Together and J'Ray.