Although the attention of most racing fans this weekend will be focused on Del Mar and Saratoga, it could also pay to keep an eye on what transpires in Sunday’s $175,000 Nijinsky Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine.
The 1 ½-mile turf race could produce starters for the Northern Dancer Stakes (gr. I) and Canadian International (gr. I) later this year at Woodbine, so it’s not surprising that the Nijinsky has attracted a quality field of eight starters. Leading the charge is #2 Johnny Bear, who reached the highest level of the sport when upsetting the Northern Dancer last year over this same course and distance. The seven-year-old son of English Channel is winless in four starts since then, but his fifth-place effort in the 1 ½-mile Singspiel Stakes (gr. III) at Woodbine last month was a step in the right direction.
#5 Pumpkin Rumble and #1 Final Copy finished second and third, respectively, in the Singspiel Stakes while employing vastly different tactics—Final Copy set the pace before tiring late, while Pumpkin Rumble came rallying from the back of the pack. Along with Johnny Bear, they are among the main local players in the Nijinsky, but they’ll have to be sharp to stem off the challenges coming from the high-profile shippers in the field.
The most notable among the out-of-towners is #8 Vettori Kin, a Group 1 winner in Brazil. Since being brought to North American and transferred to the barn of Kenny McPeek, Vettori Kin has steadily progressed to become a high-level route runner on turf, winning the Louisville Handicap (gr. III) going 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs in May before finishing fourth against a quality field in the United Nations Stakes (gr. I) at Monmouth Park. Vettori Kin will be facing an easier field in the Nijinsky and looms as the horse to beat.
Also worth a look is #4 Mekhtaal, winner of the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan in France fourteen months ago. His two runs to date in North America have been disappointing—he finished tenth in both the Arlington Milllion (gr. I) and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. I) last year—but the son of Sea the Stars has plenty of back class and could be dangerous off the layoff for trainer Graham Motion.
Rounding out the field are #3 Bangkok, fourth in the 2017 Nijinsky Stakes; #6 Tiz a Slam, winner of the Ontario Derby (gr. III) and Dominion Day Stakes (gr. III) over the Woodbine Tapeta track; and Seeking Albert, fourth behind Johnny Bear in the 2017 Northern Dancer Stakes.
The Nijinsky Stakes is the eighth race on the card, with a post time of 4:47 p.m. Eastern.