05/02/2002 11:00PM

Villeneuve winningest woman in Canada

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Francine Villeneuve scored two wins on opening day at Fort Erie last Saturday and one on Sunday, which was enough to gain her a share of first place in the standings with three other riders heading into the second weekend of the meeting.

It also earned Villeneuve the distinction of becoming the winningest female jockey in Canada. She now has 600 wins, one more than Regina Sealock, who also is a member of the Fort Erie colony. Sealock finished fifth on her only mount of the opening three-day week.

The 41-year-old Sealock, formerly a show-horse rider in Europe, took out her jockey's license in 1986 and recorded many of her wins in Alberta before she moved her tack east in 1991.

Villeneuve, 37, began her career at Woodbine in 1987. In the mid-1990's, she switched to Fort Erie after she found mounts tougher to obtain.

"I had good years and bad," said Villeneuve, an Ottawa native who has bounced back from several accidents. "I came to Fort Erie confident that I would become one of the more prominent riders."

Villeneuve, who took the year off in 1999 to have a baby, has been well ahead of her Canadian female riding rivals in purse earnings for a number of years, starting in 2002 with $8,514,335. Woodbine rider Laurie Gulas, who is next in line, had $7,066,230 heading into this season.

There are 11 women among the 40-odd regular riders at Fort Erie, and they started with a bang, winning six of the 10 races here opening day, including the feature. The following day only two got the job done, and Monday they were shut out.

Lauzon part-time at Fort Erie

Jack "Jocko" Lauzon no longer is a regular member of the Fort Erie jockey colony.

The 40-year-old Lauzon, who was born in nearby Welland, decided to return to Woodbine after a year at the border oval.

"I feel real good this year," said Lauzon. "It's the best I've felt since I was a kid. I'm very confident. I have the ability to ride as good as anyone there."

Lauzon added that he would ride at Fort Erie on Mondays and Tuesdays, Woodbine's dark days.

Lauzon, twice a Queen's Plate winner, was out of action for close to three years recovering from a broken neck incurred in a riding accident in Macau in 1996. Last year, he won 54 races at Fort Erie and 11 at Woodbine for purse earnings of around $1.3 million.

* Jockey Martin Ramirez is back at the Fort. He missed most of last year's meeting after breaking a wrist on June 9. To prepare for the season, Ramirez did some riding at Tampa Bay during the winter. Ramirez won the riding title at Fort Erie in 1999 and was second the following year.

* Nancy Hilts has returned to her vocation as a trainer. For five years, she had worked for the Ontario Racing Commission as a steward. "I have three horses right now and expect two more on Monday," said Hilts. "I trained this winter in Florida, but I didn't run any." In 1960 Hilts, became the first woman to be licensed in Ontario as a trainer of Thoroughbreds.