03/28/2007 11:00PM

No easy task for Baker's backups


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Reade Baker, who has led the local training ranks with a total of 20 stakes winners over the past two meetings, will begin his 2007 season here minus a few potentially big shooters.

Judiths Wild Rush, whom Baker trained to back-to-back Sovereign Awards as champion sprinter, was transferred to Julian Canet for a winter campaign and will continue to compete under Canet's name for the immediate future.

Mike Fox, Backgammon, and Hubbert's Peak, all trained by Baker last year for owner D. Morgan Firestone, have been transferred to trainer Cliff Hopmans.

Both Mike Fox and Backgammon are 3-year-olds who were stakes-placed in their first campaigns, while Hubbert's Peak is a lightly raced 4-year-old who has shown promise.

Mike Fox, a Queen's Plate hopeful who finished third in the Cup and Saucer here last year, was fourth after a poor start in his 3-year-old debut at Tampa Bay Downs last week.

Backgammon wound up his first season with a third-place finish in the Simcoe, while Hubbert's Peak, who had been trained by Hopmans at 2, won his maiden for Baker here last spring and then finished a close fourth in the Queenston.

But Baker, who has been attending 2-year-olds in training sales in Florida this week after wintering at Palm Meadows and sending out a few horses at Gulfstream, will hardly be returning to an empty barn.

"I have about 40 horses in there right now," said Baker, whose assistant Leroy Trotman has been running the barn at Woodbine. "The reports I get are glowing."

Atlas Shrugs, who began 2006 with back-to-back wins here in the Woodstock and Queenston, will make his 4-year-old debut in Saturday's opening-day feature, which is the allowance prep for the Jacques Cartier.

Bosskiri was entered in Sunday's scheduled headliner, the $79,900 Whimsical prep, but the race did not fill. She now will head straight to the $125,000 Whimsical on April 15 along with stablemate Vestrey Lady, a 4-year-old filly owned by Harlequin Ranches.

A winner of two stakes and runner-up behind Kimchi in the Sovereign Award balloting for 3-year-old filly last year, Vestrey Lady finished third in her seasonal debut, a five-furlong turf allowance at Gulfstream early this month.

"She had a great winter," said Baker. "We got a start into her, which was very positive."

Coy Coyote, a 3-year-old filly who won the Grade 3 Mazarine for Baker here last fall, is still in Florida but should be heading north next week.

Baker is particularly pleased about the impending return of Edmonton, who showed uncommon ability in his only start here, which came in the fall of 2005.

"It's nice to have him back in the fold," said Baker, noting that Edmonton had suffered a fractured stifle in an accident during training in the spring of 2006.

Wilson going for three-peat

Emma-Jayne Wilson is looking to become the first jockey to win three straight Woodbine riding titles since Sandy Hawley performed the feat in 1988 to 1990.

And, if any of Wilson's fellow riders are hoping she could be slow rounding into form in her first full season without an apprentice's weight allowance, they may be in for a rude awakening.

Unlike in previous years, Wilson rode races during the winter instead of just galloping horses.

"I did nothing the last couple of years but gallop all winter," said Wilson, who took home Sovereign Awards as Canada's outstanding apprentice jockey in her first two full campaigns. "I'd come back and be breezing horses like crazy, but I just wasn't that fit."

Wilson will have no concerns on that score this time around, however, as the 25-year-old competed at Fair Grounds from Dec. 22 through March 12.

"To be at a new racetrack with new people, and new horses - it opened up a new horizon for me," said Wilson of her New Orleans experience.

"Even though I've had such success, I'm still a young rider, with lots to learn. My main goal was working on my skills. All the riders in the room were great. I picked up a few pointers.

"It was a slightly different style of racing - a little tighter, a little rougher - but it wasn't that big a change to me."

The Fair Grounds also had some tangible benefits for Wilson, as she rode 25 winners and recorded 84 in-the-money finishes from 252 mounts.

"I had no real expectations," said Wilson. "I wanted to ride, to make sure I was fit and sharp, but not to the point I was grinding myself down to nothing.

"My priority was always Woodbine."

Saturday seminars begin

Jennifer Morrison will lead off her series of handicapping sessions here Saturday with a one-hour seminar from 11 a.m. to noon on the second floor of the grandstand.

Trainer Reade Baker is scheduled to be Morrison's guest. Morrison, who is Woodbine's oddsmaker, is a freelance contributor to Daily Racing Form.

McAleney out indefinitely

Jim McAleney, one of the top riders here, broke his thighbone in an accident during training hours on Friday morning.

Danny Williams, McAleney's agent, said the rider would have to undergo surgery and would be out for an indeterminate period.

World Cup Day starts early

Woodbine will be offering simulcast wagering on six races from Dubai on Saturday, beginning at 9:40 a.m. and concluding at 1:30 p.m.

Wagering on the first two Dubai simulcasts will be available via HorsePlayer Interactive's phone and website only. The last four races will be available at all locations.