05/03/2006 12:00AM

Vella high on Like a Gem in Fury


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Like a Gem's ultimate goal is the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, which will be run over 1 1/8 miles on June 11.

But in the meantime, there's no reason to believe that Like a Gem can't take home the top prize here in Sunday's seven-furlong Fury for Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies.

"This filly just keeps getting better," said trainer Danny Vella, who sent out Like a Gem to work four furlongs in 48.60 seconds under regular rider Robert Landry at Woodbine on Wednesday. "Racing has made her better. She's matured."

Like a Gem, who wintered at Adena Springs South in Florida, finished third in a first-level allowance over five furlongs here opening day and swung back two weeks later to score impressively under similar terms at six furlongs.

"I expect her to run a better race than ever in the Fury," said Vella. "She's fit and she's ready."

The Grade 3 Selene, an open 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies here May 21, is the final stepping-stone stakes to the Woodbine Oaks.

"If she was to bounce right out of this race, she might come back in the Selene," said Vella, who sent out Like a Gem to finish second in the Ontario Lassie in her two-turn debut last December.

"She's not scared to run; she loves the action."

Knights Templar wasn't right

The Selene also is the target of Knights Templar, who finished second as the odds-on choice in her 2006 debut at Woodbine for Vella in last Sunday's six-furlong Star Shoot.

"She came back full of mucus," said Vella. "It's one those ones where you wonder how did she do it, run as well as she did.

"At least I'm pleased that it's something we can fix."

Knights Templar, a Florida-bred, won the Grade 3 Mazarine by 13 1/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles here last October.

Town Thief en route for Queenston

Town Thief, who has been based in California with trainer Ben Cecil, was scheduled to fly in to Rochester, N.Y., on Wednesday evening and then join trainer Edward Freeman at Fort Erie, Ontario, for his final preparations for Saturday's Queenston Stakes.

A maiden after four career starts, Town Thief will face six rivals in the $150,000 Queenston, a seven-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds.

"He'll stay with me, and we'll see how he gets on," said Freeman.

The Queenston is the first serious stakes tune-up for the June 25 Queen's Plate, and it has attracted an interesting lineup, including Canadian champion 2-year-old Edenwold, the undefeated Bad Hat, and Thinking Out Loud, winner of last year's Coronation Futurity.

Emma-Jayne Wilson has the call on Town Thief, who will be only the fourth Woodbine starter for Cecil and the first since Poteen finished seventh in the 1999 Atto Mile.

Lahave 'doing good'

Freeman, who returned last week from his winter quarters in California, trains his own Queen's Plate hopeful in Lahave, who was scratched from his scheduled season debut here last Saturday.

"I had trouble with the horses I flew here, and he was one of them," said Freeman. "He didn't eat that well, and had a slight temperature.

"But in general, he's doing good."

Deverell an apprentice at age 35

At age 35, Dean Deverell may seem a tad old to be called a "bug boy."

But Deverell in fact is the latest apprentice to burst onto the scene here, picking up two mounts on last Saturday's card and then riding three more at Fort Erie on Sunday.

Deverell's best finish so far was a second at Fort Erie with Pan's Forum, who is owned and trained by his wife, Siobhan Deverell, daughter of former jockey Alfred Ferreira.

"It's always been a dream of mine to ride here," said Deverell, who is represented by jockey agent Mike Langlais. "It's something I've wanted to do for 20 years."

Born and raised in nearby Mississauga, Deverell started galloping horses on the farm for trainer John MacKenzie when 12 years old.

"I got permission to gallop here when I was 14," said Deverell. "I grew up with John. I worked with him until I was 24."

Deverell went on to gallop horses at Woodbine for several trainers, including Danny O'Callaghan and Mike Mattine. In the meantime, he started riding Quarter Horses at Picov Downs in nearby Ajax.

"I rode there off and on up until 2003," said Deverell.

He was exercising horses at his father-in-law's farm while planning a return to Picov this spring.

"Picov got slots, and the purses were going up," said Deverell. "I was getting my weight down low enough to ride there.

"Then I thought I'd just keep going, and see what happened."

The result is that Deverell now is an apprentice rider who is able to tack 111 pounds and will be riding with a whip for the first time at Woodbine on Friday.

His lone mount for the day is Coleraine, a first-time starter owned and trained by his wife, in the ninth race.

Bet Derby offered at Woodbine

Woodbine will be offering advance wagering on Saturday's Kentucky Derby card, beginning at 3 p.m. Friday at all locations.

Advance pools for the pick three, pick four, and pick six will not open until the conclusion of Friday's Churchill Downs card, at approximately 7 p.m.

This year is also the first for Canadian customers to be wagering directly into the Churchill Downs Derby Day pools and the first that the Oaks-Derby double will be available in Canada.