09/13/2012 3:51PM

Woodbine: Northern Dancer represents imposing challenge for 3-year-old filly Irish Mission

Michael Burns
Irish Mission, winner of the Breeders' Stakes, is set to face older males in the Northern Dancer.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario — In the brief history of the Northern Dancer, which dates back to just 2006, no 3-year-old and no filly or mare has gone up against the older males. But trainer Mark Frostad will be looking to break through both barriers on Sunday with the 3-year-old filly Irish Mission set to complete in the Grade 1, $500,000 Northern Dancer at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.

“She’s in very good order,” said Frostad, who sent out Irish Mission to breeze six furlongs in 1:12.40 on the main track here at Woodbine last Sunday with exercise rider Billy O’ Connor in the irons. “She galloped out really strong. She’s on her game right now.”

It should be noted that Irish Mission, who is owned by Robert S. Evans, hasn’t had a campaign which would be considered typical for her age and sex.

Beginning her season as a maiden, Irish Mission finished second in a 1 1/8-mile turf race at Gulfstream on March 29 and then graduated over 1 3/16 miles on grass at Keeneland four weeks later.

But the fun really began at Woodbine as Irish Mission captured the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks and then finished second in the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate.

After failing to handle the dirt and finishing sixth in the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales at Fort Erie, Irish Mission capped her perfect attendance record in the Canadian Triple Crown by winning the Breeders’ Stakes.

The Breeders’, a 1 1/2-mile mile turf race here Aug. 5, was Irish Mission’s fourth appearance in nine weeks with three weeks between each start dating back to the June 3 Oaks.

With regular rider Alex Solis in the irons, Irish Mission had rallied from 12th place in the Breeders’ and prevailed by a half-length over a fresh Aldous Snow.

“As soon as she ran that kind of race, we started thinking about the Northern Dancer,” said Frostad.

‘She came out of the race perfectly, she’s had lots of time now, and she gets a big break in the weights.”

Irish Mission would get into the Northern Dancer with 109 pounds and Solis, who tacks 117, will be replaced by Justin Stein, who is likely to post a pound or two of overweight.

Woodbine oddsmaker Ernie Perri has listed Irish Mission as a 10-1 chance in the Northern Dancer’s field of eight.

Wigmore Hall follows familiar pattern

Scalo, the German raider who arrived here last month and finished a closing third in the Grade 2 Sky Classic over 1 1/4 miles of turf, is the morning-line favorite for the Northern Dancer at 2-1.

Musketier, the 10-year-old turf-loving marathoner trained by Roger Attfield, is the second choice at 5-2. His stablemate, Forte dei Marmi, has been pegged at 8-1 after winning the Sky Classic last time out.

Celtic Conviction and Ojibway Signal, the other locals in the Northern Dancer lineup, are 20-1 chances.

The often unlucky Al Khali, conditioned by Bill Mott, finished third in last year’s Northern Dancer and is the 3-1 third choice for Sunday’s renewal.

Wigmore Hall, the defending Northern Dancer champion, has been made the fourth choice at 6-1.

Gillie Dolman, traveling head lass for Wigmore Hall’s trainer, Mike Bell, accompanied the 5-year-old gelding to Illinois last month when he finished seventh, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the Grade 1 Arlington Million at 1 1/4 miles on the turf.

“A bit more pace would have helped, but I was very pleased with his run in the end,” said Dolman.

Wigmore Hall had followed a similar regimen last year, ending 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner when fourth in the Arlington Million and then returning to England prior to making the long trip back to Woodbine.

“He’s getting used to it now,” said Dolman.

Frostad hopeful Stars to Shine bounces back

Frostad also has a candidate for Sunday’s Canadian Stakes in Stars to Shine.

The eclectic field of nine for the Canadian also includes German raider Kapitale; England-based Barefoot Lady; All Star Heart, Laughing, and Shimmering Moment from the United States; and Moment of Majesty, Smart Sting, and Indian Pond joining Stars to Shine on the home team.

Bred in Kentucky, Stars to Shine is owned by The Grange House Partnership, a group which includes Ed Vaughan, trained of Woodbine Mile Euro invader Dance And Dance.

Stars to Shine, who suffered a condylar fracture during the running of last year’s Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland, returned to action here this summer with victories in the 1 1/8-mile Trillium and the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Ontario Matron on the main track.

But in her last start, which came in the Grade 1 Beverly D. over 1 3/16 miles of good going at Arlington, Stars to Shine finished ninth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths..

“I thought she’d run a little better,” said Frostad. “She was flat. I didn’t think she was herself at all.

“She took a little time to recover from that but she’s training very well right now. I’m hoping she’ll run a big race Sunday.”

Stars to Shine ran very well in defeat in last year’s Canadian, where she was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by winner Never Retreat and a length by runner-up Perfect Shirl as the third-place finisher.

Never Retreat won Keeneland’s Grade 1 First Lady in her next start and Perfect Shirl followed suit in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Distaff at Churchill Downs.

Any Given Royal improves with blinkers

The Ontario Derby, which is part of the Woodbine Mile Day festivities for the first time, attracted a field of nine, including Kentucky invader Gung Ho; the Mark Casse-trained trio of Prospective, Stealcase, and Patrioticandproud; Plate Trial winner River Rush; Any Given Royal and Peyton, one-two finishers in the Ontario Derby prep; Colleen’s Sailor; and Ultimate Destiny.

Any Given Royal, a Kentucky-bred who is owned by Jim and Susan Hill and trained by Brian Lynch, had finished second or third in each of his first seven starts but now will be seeking his third straight win after graduating in impressive fashion prior to his success in the prep.

“He’s going in there as good as I can get him,” said Lynch. “He’s certainly on the improve. He’s settled into where he’s running long. He relaxes nice, and he’s got a bit of finish to him.”

Lynch also believes that adding blinkers to Any Given Royal’s equipment three starts back has contributed to his upswing.

“The blinkers probably put him up into the bridle a little more,” said Lynch.

◗ The Woodbine Mile will be televised live on The Score in a two-hour broadcast beginning at 4 p.m. The Woodbine Mile will be the 10th of 11 races on the card and is slated to go off at 5:42 p.m. The Northern Dancer, which goes as the eighth race, also will be shown live on The Score telecast with post time set for 4:37 p.m. TVG also will be on site with Simon Bray reporting.