05/07/2010 12:00AM

Parity in jockey colony as meet begins


FORT ERIE, Ontario - The apprehension and uncertainty that hung over Fort Erie Racetrack's future for the last few years has finally been put to and end, and an enthusiastic crowd turned out last Saturday for opening day of the track's 113th season.

A three-year leasing agreement between Nordic Gaming and the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium is now in place, and the new management team, led by chief executive officer Jim Thibert, welcomed the opening-day patrons and thanked them for their support.

Rui Pimentel, the meet's leading rider in 2009, took no time to make his mark as he entered the winner's circle following the opening dash with Luv a Marine. But the fact Pimentel found himself on the outside looking in for the remainder of the opening weekend is an indication of how competitive the jockeys' room looks to be at this meet.

Of the 16 races carded opening weekend, Chris Griffith, Anthony Stephen, and Melanie Pinto won three each, and apprentice Neil Husbands scored his first-ever victory.

Husbands, 23, has galloped horses for the likes of Danny O'Callaghan, Malcolm Pierce, Mark Casse, and Josie Carroll for the last few years and credits them and others with a chance to learn the game.

"I decided to begin my apprenticeship this spring after working with horses down in New Orleans through the winter," Husbands said. "I have to add that my agent, Ron Burke, has been a great help in my first year, along with guidance from my uncles."

His uncle Patrick Husbands is a leading rider at Woodbine, and his uncle Anthony Husbands is a trainer.

Husbands went on to describe his winning ride at the Fort.

"Anthony legged me up on Icy Humour for my first race at the Fort and told me to take a good hold early," he said. "He cautioned me that 'Humour' might try to run up on the heels of the leaders. He was right on.

"I was in back and in tight through the turn before going three wide and then taking charge. It was a great thrill, and surprisingly I enjoyed the initiation that followed."

Icy Humour, 12-1, was followed to the wire by 50-1 and 110-1 longshots. The trifecta paid $5,547.

The Nick Gonzalez-trained Cacouna, last year's claimer of the year at Fort Erie, broke a step behind the field in Saturday's third race, a $7,500 claiming event, then was hustled to the lead by rider Chris Griffith.

The 5-year-old gelding went on to set a new track record for 4 1/2 furlongs, finishing in 51.46 seconds.

Tony Adamo sent two runners out over the weekend, and both came home in front. Lyle "Butch" Morden also collected two wins from his six starters.