Northern Duchess Faces Stern Test

Published: September 18, 2009 11:25 pm EDT

A daunting task awaits Northern Duchess on Tuesday afternoon, when the three-year-old pacing fillies line up behind the Kawartha Downs starting gate for their $170,000 Gold Final

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Only five fillies were entered in last week’s elimination, so all five advanced directly to Tuesday’s lucrative Gold Final, and Northern Duchess will line up to the right of four fillies from the Tracy Brainard barn that are ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in the sophomore pacing filly standings. If the company were not intimidating enough, Tuesday’s start will be Northern Duchess’s first since June 12.

"She doesn’t probably belong in there right now," speculates trainer John Pentland. "I figured there would be no elimination and I could get the second qualifier into her, but she was a little flat."

Sidelined by a knee injury after her third sophomore start, Northern Duchess watched from the sidelines as her peers battled through the stakes laden summer months. Once the Western Terror daughter received the thumbs up from her veterinarian, Pentland resumed her training and by early September felt the filly was ready to qualify.

In a September 4 qualifier at Mohawk Racetrack with three-year-old pacing colt superstar Well Said, Northern Duchess delivered a sharp fifth-place effort, pacing home in :27.4 to a clocking of 1:56.2. When it was clear that there would be no Gold eliminations last week, Pentland sent the filly back to Mohawk Racetrack for a September 14 qualifier, but was not as pleased with her 1:56.3 result.

"Her first qualifier was pretty good. We were in with Well Said, so Mike [Saftic] just grabbed hold of her from the half to the three-quarters and let her pace home," recalls Pentland, who trains the winner of $247,798 for owner Karen Carroll of Shedden. "But her second qualifier she was a little flat. I don’t know if she had a little bit of a bug, but she wasn’t as strong."

Regular reinsman Mike Saftic will steer Northern Duchess from Post 5 in Tuesday’s final, and Pentland expects the filly to be racing for a small share of the purse against the reigning Gold Final champion Shacked Up, who gets Post 2, and $574,867 winner Yellow Diamond, who will start from Post 1.

"I think there are three of them in there vying for the lighter shares," notes the horseman.

Swimming laps in the equine pool was always part of Northern Duchess’s routine, but since her injury the filly has logged most of her miles in the water. Pentland says he has not altered the pacer’s equipment, but admits that he is watching every outing very carefully, a task made difficult by the filly’s awkward gait.

"She flops all over the place," he explains. "She’s the funniest going horse."

With a second in the elimination and a third in the final of the Gold Series season opener at Western Fair Raceway in May, Northern Duchess currently has 57 Gold Series points and is ranked eighth in the race for a Super Final berth. After Tuesday’s contest the three-year-old pacing fillies have one regular season event left, October 2 and 9 at Mohawk and Woodbine Racetracks, and Pentland hopes Northern Duchess is able to hang on to her spot in the November 14 Super Final.

"She may prove that she cannot go with the Gold horses any more," says the horseman pragmatically. "But with a rest over the winter she may still prove to be a useful horse."

Northern Duchess faces her stiff Gold Final test in Tuesday’s fourth race at Kawartha Downs. The Fraserville oval sends its first race into the starter’s care at 4:15 p.m.

$170,000 OSS Gold Final
PP - Horse (Sire) - Driver - Trainer
1 - Yellow Diamond (Western Terror) - Mark MacDonald - Tracy Brainard
2 - Shacked Up (Western Terror) - Luc Ouellette - Tracy Brainard
3 - Coming Late (Grinfromeartoear) - Gord Brown - Tracy Brainard
4 - Cheap Motel (Grinfromeartoear) - Doug Brown - Tracy Brainard
5 - Northern Duchess (Western Terror) - Mike Saftic - John Pentland

To view Tuesday's harness racing entries, click here.

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