Wednesday, September 2, 2020
The Northern Dancer Stakes (G1) is a race John Burness and good friend Danny Dion will likely never forget. Two editions of the 1 1/2 mile turf race, in fact.
When their CTHS Ontario Yearling Sales purchase Johnny Bear won a stretch battle with heavily-favoured English invader Hawkbill to win the 2017 Northern Dancer Stakes, you could hear Burness whooping and hollering throughout the Woodbine grandstand.
The son of English Channel – In Return by Horse Chestnut (Saf) had been on a roll that year and was fresh off a victory in the Halton Stakes for yearling sale graduates. Burness and trainer/daughter Ashlee had always had faith in their hard-working chestnut gelding and gave him the chance to try Grade 1 company.
It was a plan that worked out, and not only in 2017, garnering Johnny Bear the Sovereign Award that year for Champion Turf Male, and again in 2018.
Johnny Bear, named for John Burness, owner of Colebrook Farms and Stallion Station, and Dion, who races as Bear Stables, topped the 2012 CTHS sale at a whopping $275,000. Bred by Ivan Dalos' Tall Oaks Farm and sold by Richard Hogan as agent, the youngster had a classic look and pedigree.
He was slow to come around and got the nickname Marshmallow from Ashlee, his biggest fan. He won a maiden allowance in his 3-year-old season and picked up a few more wins through early 2017. One of those was for a $32,000 claiming price, a race he easily won, and Ashlee was determined her favourite horse would not race for claiming again.
Johnny Bear rewarded his trainer with that magical 2017 season when he won five races including the two stakes events and almost $400,000.
In 2018, his Northern Dancer win was a little more unexpected. He was 16 to 1, but again he rolled past horses in deep stretch and beat an international field of turf marathoners. He earned some $250,000 in that season.
“Ashlee has always believed he was a good horse,” said John. “He was her champion.”
Johnny Bear, who was sidelined early in 2019, has 8 wins in 43 races and earnings of $876,172. He is one of the richest horses to come out of the CTHS sale and earn a Sovereign Award.
“He's always been special, we just had to wait for him a little bit,” said Ashlee. Johnny Bear certainly made it worth the wait.