05/22/2009 12:00AM

Pimentel's rapid start to meet not surprising

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Rui Pimentel finished last year's Fort Erie meet with 80 wins, five behind leading rider Chad Beckon. This year he is a strong candidate to take the title.

With Beckon now riding at Woodbine, Pimentel has 13 wins in the first eight days of the season. Sunny Sing is next with nine wins, and Kris Robinson and Melanie Pinto are tied with eight heading into the fourth weekend of the meeting.

"Winning a riding title has never been my aim," said Pimentel. "I just want to do my best and bring home some good checks for the trainers and owners who are nice enough to give me a shot with their horses. If it did happen I would be very pleased, but it is not my goal at the moment."

Pimentel, 35, began his riding career at Woodbine in 1995 and over the years has compiled a creditable 13 percent win average. Last year at the Fort he won with close to 20 percent of his mounts and this season is winning with one of every four rides.

"I find myself to be far more relaxed down here at the Fort," said Pimentel. "It is a much quieter atmosphere than what you have in Toronto and the people couldn't be friendlier. I guess it's the small-town atmosphere where life seems more laid back and the pressure is way down from what you have in the big city."

Chris Vella wins with first starter

Trainer Chris Vella, 23, scored his first win with his first runner in last Monday's first race when the maiden Sea Spice, Chris Griffith aboard, romped home as much the best.

"It was nice to get that initial win with my first starter," said Vella, "and it's a great way to begin the season. This is my first full year as a trainer and, of course, all my experience to date has come from working with my father, Danny Vella."

To put icing on the Vella family cake on the holiday Monday, Vella senior had longhsot Field Commission ($46.90) win the Vigil Stakes at Woodbine.

Chris Vella has seven stalls, but he is looking to expand to possibly a dozen as the year progresses. "There are stalls available here at the Fort and we think a few more runners on the shed row would help make the season," said Vella.

Aprrentices Pinto and Mehak doing well

A battle for top apprentice rider appears to be heating up between Mike Mehak and Melanie Pinto. Going into the weekend Pinto had eight winners from 38 mounts while Mehak was right behind with six winners from 45 rides.

In the trainer category, John Simms and Robert Johnson were tied with six wins each. Daryl Ezra rounds out the top three conditioners at the Fort with five winners.

Not the result Lindsay expected

There was an odd turn of events in Sunday's seventh race.

Jockey Eldridge Lindsay lodged a claim of foul against second-place finisher Wild Diamond (21-1), Anthony Stephen aboard, for interference on the turn. That claim was disallowed by the stewards.

Upon further review of the video replay, however, the stewards ruled that it was Lindsay's mount Bright N Golden who had squeezed back rail runner Year After Year on the turn. Bright N Golden was disqualified from fourth and placed last for the interference.