07/24/2003 11:00PM

Champ to stay home for now


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Last year's Canadian champion 3-year-old, Le Cinquieme Essai, who is based at Fort Erie, is backing off the competition at Woodbine, where he has dropped his first three starts in 2003.

Le Cinquieme Essai will run at Fort Erie in the Puss N Boots Sept. 1, said his trainer, Paul Nielsen. "I might even put another race into him before that," Nielsen said. "It depends on what comes up. He needs a confidence-builder."

Nielsen said Le Cinquieme Essai came out of his last race, the $107,000 Ontario Jockey Club at Woodbine July 19, in good shape even though he finished last. The gelding flattened out after dueling for the lead in the seven-furlong turf race, which was won by the 1-5 favorite, Soaring Free.

The half-mile was timed in 44:82 seconds, and the final time was 1:21:36. Soaring Free had tied the course record at six furlongs in his previous start, on June 22.

Nielsen pointed out that Le Cinquieme Essai's other two starts this year - the Grade 2 King Edward and the Grade 3 Connaught Cup - also came against tough company. His foes in the King Edward included Strut the Stage and Perfect Soul - "older horses that are tops in their division," he said.

Get Down Wolfie travels for a start

The Puss N Boots is also on the agenda of trainer Gina Powell, who is looking to repeat with last year's winner, Get Down Wolfie.

Powell finally got a 2003 start into Get Down Wolfie last Sunday, but she had to send him to Ellis Park to do it.

Get Down Wolfie, a Kentucky-bred gelding, had not raced since Oct. 11, as suitable races weren't filling, neither here nor at Woodbine. When one did go - a $100,000 optional claimer on July 6 at Woodbine - Get Down Wolfie was scratched the day before when he was discovered to have a virus. In a few days, he was fully recovered.

"I had to ship out," said Powell. "I wanted to get a race or two into him before the Puss N Boots. He was trailered for 12 hours to Ellis Park in Kentucky. The one-mile race came up real tough. It was run in 1:33.

"He came in fourth and missed it all by 3 1/2 lengths," Powell continued. "He blew a shoe in the stretch and had a nail digging into his heel. I've nominated him to a handicap at Mountaineer Park on Aug. 9. It's for $85,000."

Year's first win for Von Zella

Von Zella, a 5-year-old mare, won Tuesday's seventh race by

11 1/4 lengths. It was the first win in seven starts this year for Von Zella, who scored three times last year for her owner and breeder, Louis Dodds.

Von Zella ($13.20) was the longest shot in a race that was reduced to five runners after it was taken off the turf. She was in for a claiming price of $22,000.

"I try to keep my runners at a protected level," said Dodds, who wears many hats, as he is also a blacksmith and a transporter of horses who builds and maintains his own vehicles.

"If someone takes them from me at those levels, I feel they're going to treat them right. They will have a big investment."

Dodds has a special attachment to Von Zella, who survived a very troubled birth.

"The first five days of her life I had to hand-milk the mare and then bottle-feed the foal," Dodds said. "She had no interest in living. I had to force-feed her. She beat all odds."