Smooth sailing and a stellar steer from Emma-Jayne Wilson put the exclamation point on a primetime performance by Say the Word in the $340,200 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (G1), presented by Pattison, Sunday at Woodbine.
Sent off at 5-1, Say the Word, bred and owned by Sam-Son Farm, and trained by Gail Cox, struck front in the late going and fended off a late surge from Sir Sahib to claim victory in the 1 ½-mile marathon run over a ‘good’ E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
It was slight mutuel favourite Admiralty Pier who swept to the front soon after the gates opened, with the son of English Channel, under Steve Bahen, leading his rivals into the first turn. Peace of Ekati took up residence in second spot, with Jungle Fighter and Count Again (Say the Word’s Sam-Son farm stablemate) sitting in third and fourth, respectively. Say the Word and Wilson were eighth and last.
Admiralty Pier, who took his seven rivals through an opening quarter-mile in :25.25, was still calling the shots after a half-mile clocked in :51.57. Peace of Ekati remained second, while Jungle Fighter and Count Again matched strides 1 ½-lengths further back.
It was status quo on the front end after 1 ¼ miles, as Say the Word still waited for the word from Wilson.
As the field rounded the turn, Say the Word was given his cue from Wilson and the duo launched their bid on the far outside, as Admiralty Pier clung to a head advantage with challengers beginning to shorten his lead.
Seventh at the stretch call, Say the Word began to methodically pick off his rivals one-by-one, eventually taking over the lead but then quickly tasked with fending off a late-charging Sir Sahib.
At the wire, Say the Word was one length in front of Sir Sahib, while Admiralty Pier finished a head in front of Count Again for third spot.
The final time was 2:29.87.
Say the Word and jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, Michael Burns Photo
“It was perfect actually,” said Wilson, who won the 2015 Northern Dancer with 10-1 longshot Interpol. “The first time I rode him, Gail let me know that Junior Alvarado from Saratoga had said that he was funny with his mouth, he could be a little sensitive and to trip him [out] in a certain sort of way. Last time [in the Grade 3 Singspiel Stakes], we got the one-hole going a mile and a quarter, and I just got shuffled back. It took me a bit to just kind of get on the same page with him last time, being as sensitive as he was. I mean, he ran well, he ran third, but he was coming on end.
“So today, I was more confident with him, more ground and I knew where the line was with him for my hands and give and take. He settled for me beautifully; I literally just held the mane for pretty much the first mile and a quarter. Then as I gathered him up, I knew...I just knew. He was gaining on them last time and I just knew when he straightened, he was already in flight and it was going to be tough to beat him.”
Wilson also had high praise for Alvarado.
"And if it wasn't for the other jock's advice and what he knew of him...it's a community thing. If Junior doesn't pass that message onto Gail...it's a team effort. Yes, we're jockeys and we're in competition, but also, he wants to see the horse do well as well. Kudos, Junior; I appreciate it.”
Cox, in the midst of a strong campaign, was thrilled with the outcome.
"I think this horse kind of likes to know the people that he's with, so he's not one that's easy to shift around all the time. He also loves this turf course and he loved the distance. Last year, he was sent to me and we ran him on the Tapeta, and it was not to his liking."
The E.P. Taylor Turf Course, however, is quite a different story.
An Ontario-bred, Say the Word came into the Northern Dancer off a tough third-place finish, one that saw the dark bay flying late, in the 1 ¼-mile Singspiel Stakes (G3T) on September 19 at Woodbine.
This time, the five-year-old son of More Than Ready was just that.
A now five-time winner from 25 starts, Say the Word, who contested two-thirds (Queen’s Plate and Breeders’ Stakes) of the 2018 Canadian Triple Crown, notched his first added-money win in taking the Northern Dancer.