05/08/2003 11:00PM

Eager to get her stars into action

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Owner-trainer Audre Cappuccitti has been enduring a rather frustrating start to the Woodbine season, particularly with respect to her stable stars El Prado Essence, Dream Launcher, and American in Paris.

Only El Prado Essence has seen action this year, and not as often as Cappuccitti would have liked.

But her one appearance certainly was productive, as El Prado Essence captured the 6 1/2-furlong prep for the George C. Hendrie Handicap on April 27. The 6-year-old mare will be looking to defend her Hendrie title at the same distance here Sunday.

"She came in at the end of February, and started having a lot of tie-ups," said Cappuccitti. "Sometimes, their muscle enzymes get a little out of whack. She missed quite a few days of training time.

"But she's doing great now; she's in good order. I hope she runs as nicely as she did last time. I thought she would run good, but I really

didn't think she would win."

El Prado Essence was very impressive in the Hendrie prep, laying about four lengths off a contested pace before rallying for a 1 3/4-length victory.

"I thought that prep was as good as any stakes race," said Cappuccitti. "I didn't do anything with her since then; I hope she will go forward."

Dream Launcher awaits a spot

Dream Launcher, a 5-year-old, became a stakes winner in his eighth and final start of 2002, capturing the 1 1/8-mile Durham Cup here Oct. 5. He had started twice by this time last spring, finishing fifth in the Vigil and third in the Eclipse.

"He had ankle surgery as a 3-year-old," said Cappuccitti. "Every now and then he comes up with a little bit of a heat problem, and we back off."

Dream Launcher actually is sitting on ready after working six furlongs here Monday, but Cappuccitti has not been able to find a suitable spot.

"I entered him twice, and the races didn't fill," she said. "I have no idea where I'm going to go with him now."

American in Paris, a 6-year-old mare, had recorded 3 wins in 3 starts by April 21 last year and came here early this season with an eye toward the five-furlong sprints that are her forte.

But those dashes now are history for her division at this meeting, and American in Paris has yet to make it to the races due to her new and unwelcome propensity to tie up after workouts.

American in Paris actually made it as far as the entry box last Friday, but had to be scratched on race day. Cappuccitti was keeping her fingers crossed after sending out the mare to work six furlongs here Friday. She went in 1:15.20.

Leading Role dangerous longshot

Leading Role has been a fringe player in the only three previous stakes appearances of her career but is a threat to steal the limelight in the Hendrie.

"She never seems to get too much respect on the odds board," said Gail Casselman, who trains Leading Role and is a part-owner of the 5-year-old mare.

Casselman's case was underlined by Leading Role's last start, the six-furlong Whimsical Stakes here April 12.

Making her seasonal bow with plenty of winter conditioning at Payson Park under her belt, Leading Role was sent off at 64-1 and finished fourth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths.

"I expected her to run a big race,' said Casselman. "She had probably her best winter ever down there, and her last breeze at Payson was really a stellar work. I think she's improved this year; she looks fabulous."

Leading Role, close to the pace while racing wide in the early stages of the Whimsical, opened up a 2 1/2-length lead in midstretch and appeared to be headed for a major upset.

"I was a little surprised she was so close," said Casselman, "but she can have a lot of speed."

Gigawatt works for return

Gigawatt, winner of the 1 1/16-mile Display here last November and considered a candidate for the Kentucky Derby before being sidelined early this season, worked four furlongs in a sharp 47.40 seconds on the main track Friday.

Jockey Patrick Husbands was aboard Gigawatt, a Kentucky-bred owned by Stonerside Stable who was recording his third workout since arriving here about a month ago.

"This morning, I can truly say he's back," said Greg DeGannes, an assistant trainer to Mark Casse.

DeGannes, who also is a veterinarian, noted that Gigawatt has been wearing a special shoe to protect his right hind hoof.

"He had a terrible pus pocket, and it developed into a nasty infection," said DeGannes, adding that part of the wall of Gigawatt's hoof had to be cut away and then given plenty of time to grow back.

"But he's passed every hurdle. If he keeps going forward, it won't be long before we see him in the afternoon."