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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Of all the local riders who were active over the winter, none put in more air miles than Emma-Jayne Wilson and Eurico Rosa Da Silva.
Wilson began her "off" season at the Fair Grounds in late December and had relocated to Hong Kong by the beginning of February.
"It was a life-altering experience, to take up and go somewhere where you're completely new," said Wilson. "It was a unique environment for me to develop as a rider and as a person."
Meanwhile, Da Silva journeyed to his native Brazil to visit with family and then headed for Singapore with a six-week contract.
"The racing there is very good," said Da Silva, who was on his second tour of duty in Singapore and compiled a record of 6-6-3 from 40 mounts.
Wilson, who had traveled to Hong Kong to ride in an international jockey competition last year, had discussions about riding there with the Hong Kong Jockey Club at that time.
Still, Wilson was surprised when the call came from Hong Kong on Jan. 27.
"I wasn't anticipating hearing from them as soon as that," said Wilson, who had finished second in the Woodbine standings with 129 wins after leading that category and taking home Sovereign Awards as Canada's outstanding apprentice the previous two seasons. "They said if I was willing to come over they would grant me a license."
Wilson, 26, completed her Fair Grounds meeting with five mounts on Jan. 28 and was on her way to Hong Kong the next day.
While her stay was a success on many counts, it did not include much luck on the racetrack, where she was winless from 81 mounts.
"The frustrating part was I wasn't a very good agent," said Wilson. "They don't actually have agents there. You have to hustle all your own mounts.
"Not knowing any of the horses or people in Hong Kong, that provided a challenge."
Da Silva, 32, started riding here in 2004 and is coming off a banner year in which he won 83 races and purses of $3.5 million from 650 mounts.
After bringing home seven winners during the last week of the 2007 meeting and finishing sixth in the standings, Da Silva spent more than three weeks in Brazil before heading to Singapore, where he started up on Jan. 11.
Da Silva was back at Woodbine in mid-March. After getting off to a bit of a slow start here last spring, Da Silva surged to the top of the standings in mid-May before the numbers caught up to him.
"We just ran out of stock," said Da Silva. "I was riding pretty much for the same people the first four or five months. After that I was riding for more trainers, new trainers."
Known for his aggressive style, Da Silva can be expected to be prominent in the dashes that will dominate the programs here in the early going.
"The horse is fresh, you're fresh," said Da Silva. "Five furlongs is a good distance."
King switches to executive post
Robert King Jr., who was the leading rider at Fort Erie in 2006 and 2007, has retired after being elected secretary/manager of the Jockeys' Benefit Association of Canada.
"At our annual meeting in Las Vegas last December I threw my hat into the ring," said King. "I've always believed in the guild. They helped me when I was young and starting out.
"I've been a director, and a past vice president. I think it's a great organization."
King, 43, began his career in 1982 and was the Sovereign Award winner as Canada's leading apprentice in 1983 and 1984, but later took a 10-year hiatus from race riding before returning in 2005.
For seven of those years, including five in Ontario, King trained a small string and saddled 29 winners from 213 starters.
His riding career comprised 10,925 mounts with 1,347 wins, 1,346 seconds, and 1,376 thirds for total purses of more than $19 million.
Lauzon turns to booking mounts
Jack Lauzon is another veteran rider who is starting the 2008 season in a new profession.
Lauzon, 46, has taken over as the agent for journeyman David Garcia, who rode 10 winners here last year and another five at Fort Erie.
"I pinched a nerve in my shoulder last October, and I've had like a shooting pain in my arm ever since," said Lauzon, who had been paralyzed from the chest down after a riding accident in Macao in 1996 and fought his way back to the saddle after a 2 1/2-year absence. "This is probably the next segment of my life."
Lauzon has ridden 1,620 winners, including Queen's Plates with Regal Intention in 1988 and Basqueian in 1994, and amassed purses of more than $31 million from 12,778 career mounts. He rode 10 winners here last year and another 21 at Fort Erie.
Attfield still mending
Trainer Roger Attfield will be represented by starters at Woodbine and Keeneland this weekend.
But Attfield himself will be at his home in nearby Nobleton, where he is recuperating from a severely infected foot, which he injured in Florida last December.
Attfield, 68, had suffered a badly broken heel, but that injury was misdiagnosed and improperly treated.
The problem forced Attfield to fly home in early March to Toronto, where he underwent surgery and was outfitted with a vacuum-like apparatus that constantly flushed out the infected area.
"The foot is healing incredibly well," said Attfield, who also is on intravenous antibiotics and expects that treatment to continue for another three months.
In the meantime, the Attfield operations are in the hands of assistants Rachel Halden in Kentucky and Nancy Sullivan at Woodbine.
As of Friday, Attfield has 27 horses at Keeneland.
"A number of those will be on their way up here next week," said Attfield.
That number includes Not Bourbon, a 3-year-old colt owned and bred by Charles Fipke.
Not Bourbon is scheduled to make his season debut here in next Saturday's $150,000 Achievement, a six-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds.
"He's very fit, and he needs to get started," said Attfield, who sent out Not Bourbon to win the six-furlong Bull Page here last August. "The owner's definitely looking to stretch him out, and you'll find that out as you go along the highway, but you're not going to pass up a race like this."