The Nearctic Stakes takes its name from Nearctic, the 1958 Canadian Horse of the Year. Owned by E. P. Taylor and trained by Pete McCann, this Ontario-bred ran in stakes company from age two through age four, winning 21 of his 47 career starts. As good as he was on the racetrack, Nearctic stood out even more in the breeding shed. He sired great racehorse and seminal sire Northern Dancer.
The race run in Nearctic’s honour has always been run at six furlongs. From its inception in 1973 through 1994, it was contested over dirt; since 1995, it has been run over the grass. It held a Grade 3 from 1985-1989, was re-graded in 1999 as a Grade 2, and has held that ever since except for 2010-2013, when it held Grade 1 status.
Two Canadian Horses of the Year have won the Nearctic. 1988 Canadian Horse of the Year Play the King won it twice, in 1987 and 1988. In his next start after his second Nearctic victory, Play the King finished a close second behind Gulch in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee and 2004 Canadian Horse of the Year Soaring Free also won the Nearctic in 2003. Even better known as a miler than a sprinter, Soaring Free finished second in the Grade 1 Atto Mile (now the Woodbine Mile) in 2003, and won it in 2004.
Selections are for turf only.
Race 7: Nearctic Stakes (G2), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the turf, post time 4:30pm EDT
This year’s edition of the Nearctic is a great betting race: eleven horses vying for a $250,000 purse, including a favourite who lacks appeal. Though likely chalk YORKTON comes into this race in great form and got a relatively inside draw, he has been better on all-weather than on turf. He has also been better going longer than six furlongs — think six and a half, seven, the one-turn mile. This makes YORKTON a serious underlay, especially with so many other intriguing entries.
Mike Maker is famous for his ability to claim a turf router, but he isn’t too bad with claiming turf sprinters, either. Case in point, Hogy, who he claimed for $80,000 last year at the age of 8 and then sent out to a pair of Grade 3 victories. Another case in point, HEMBREE. Though even Maker has sent him out in longer races since claiming him for $50,000 at Aqueduct last spring, the distances are gradually shortening, and the results are gradually improving. When last seen, he won a two-other-than going seven furlongs at Kentucky Downs, leaving Sonic Boom, horse-for-course Sharm El Sheikh, and everyone else in his wake. Now, HEMBREE cuts back even further to six furlongs. The triumph going seven at Kentucky Downs proves several things: he is in good form, he can handle a galloping turf course, and he can handle an extended turf sprint. The tactically versatile colt now comes third off the lay, gets top-flight Irad Ortiz in the irons, and tries graded company for the first time since the American Derby (G3) last year. In the days leading up to the American Derby I said over and over again that HEMBREE was a toss because he’s a sprinter, not a router. Now, he tries graded company at the right distance, and should measure up at a price.
Toss LADY ALEXANDRA’s last: she was trying Tapeta instead of turf, and like everyone else in that field, she was sputtering to catch the monster that is Hotshot Anna. Her turf sprint efforts since moving to the barn of Graham Motion have been far better. She romped over fillies and mares in the License Fee Stakes at Belmont, then finished second beaten only a neck by Long On Value in the Highlander (G1) at Woodbine. LADY ALEXANDRA showed a liking for six furlongs at Woodbine, and showed that facing males did not faze her. In terms of pace, she has tactical speed — no need to gun it, but she won’t be too far back. She has gotten a good rapport with rider Jose Ortiz this year, and Ortiz ships back to Woodbine to partner with her again. They should be ready to go.
Though he is also a hunch play for anyone excited about the change in Canadian law come October 17, HEMP HEMP HURRAY has less mystical reasons to outrun his odds, too. Turf sprints can be friendly to forward sorts, and the inside looks good — and HEMP HEMP HURRAY both drew the fence and adds blinkers back. He won a turf sprint from the rail draw, sitting near the pace, when he annexed the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth last year. And, if the blinkers jolt a bit of speed into him, he may even beat YORKTON to the front. Of course, the Nearctic is a tough ask for HEMP HEMP HURRAY: he is a three-year-old facing older horses for the first time. But, there’s enough to give him a shot as the longest price of the three-strong Mike Maker Brigade. HEMP HEMP HURRAY should improve on the switch from all-weather back to grass. The son of Artie Schiller also showed an aptitude for the Woodbine turf specifically in last year’s Summer Stakes, when he finished second beaten just a neck.
#4 HEMBREE (10/1)
#6 LADY ALEXANDRA (5/1)
#1 HEMP HEMP HURRAY (20/1)
Longshot: #5 BUSHROD (20/1) has gone beast mode since being claimed by trainer Judd Becker in May. After a pair of third-place finishes off the claim, one in a turf sprint stakes at Canterbury and then one in a $50K/N2X at Arlington, Bushrod did something that just doesn’t happen: beat Good Bye Greg by daylight in a five-and-a-half-furlong dash over the Arlington polytrack. After that feat, BUSHROD returned to the grass, and took his form with him. He won the Mystic Lake Turf Express at Canterbury, then won the Claiming Crown prep at Kentucky Downs. That race at Kentucky Downs looked like the outer limit of what BUSHROD wants; it was six and a half furlongs, and he just held. But, now, he cuts back to a flat six furlongs, and keeps rider Adam Beschizza in the irons from that outing. Though he has never raced at Woodbine, the fact that he can handle Arlington bodes well. As far as running style, BUSHROD is versatile: he can wire the race, press, or rally from a few back. Taken all together, there is a lot to like about this in-form Arizona-bred who looks so likely to elude the bettors’ attention.
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