11/28/2008 12:00AM

Western Canada's apprentices lead the way

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It has been nine years since an apprentice rider based in Western Canada took home a Sovereign Award, with the Vancouver-based Ben Russell having turned that trick in 1999.

But there is a strong Western flavor to the division this year, and the Sovereign Award voters have solid contenders to choose from among the leading apprentice riders in from Manitoba, British Columbia, and Alberta.

Janine Stianson, who was the third-leading rider at Assiniboia Downs; Stephanie Fedora, who finished seventh in the Hastings Park standings; and Krista Carignan, who cracked the top 10 at Northlands Park before coming east this fall, all are likely to attract attention in the balloting, which began Thursday and closes at 5 p.m. Eastern on Monday.

The three finalists will be announced Friday, and the winner will be announced at the 34th annual Sovereign Awards ceremony Dec. 12 in Toronto.

Unlike recent years, when Woodbine-based bug riders like Tyler Pizarro, Emma-Jayne Wilson, and Corey Fraser were logical Sovereign Award choices, no Ontario-based apprentice stepped to the fore this season.

Pinto tops Ontario apprentice riders

Melanie Pinto will finish the season as the top apprentice in races won in Ontario with 45.

Pinto, 27, won 41 races at Fort Erie, where she finished sixth in the standings. She has added one win at Mountaineer Park and another four wins at Woodbine, where she began and is ending her season. Her 434 mounts had earned more than $600,000 through Thursday's card at Woodbine.

"I think my year's gone very well," said Pinto, who is represented by agent Scott Lane. "It started off a little slow, and I moved my tack to Fort Erie. I had a good agent and I got a lot of experience down there, with a chance to win quite a few races.

"Since I moved my tack back here, things are a little slow again, but that's just how it goes."

Pinto plans to spend the winter at Payson Park, galloping and breezing horses for various outfits, and will start off at Woodbine again next spring.

O'Brien has a difficult year

Catherine O'Brien did not get started until May 23 after suffering a back injury last winter.

"I had a really unlucky year," said O'Brien, 28. "I thought not getting started early was going to hurt me, but I won my first race back and that helped me get rolling again."

That roll came to a crashing end when O'Brien suffered a badly broken leg during a spill at Fort Erie on Oct. 6.

"I'm still on crutches," O'Brien said the other day. "The doctors told me I'd be off four to six months.

"My priority this winter is to recover and get back in shape as soon as I can. I'll probably spend a month in Florida and see if I'm going to be able to get back on horses down there."

Despite her truncated campaign, O'Brien managed to ride 39 winners from 373 mounts. O'Brien recorded 19 of those wins at Woodbine and 20 at Fort Erie, for total purses of $788,000.

Carignan plans to return to Woodbine

Krista Carignan won 39 races in Alberta before moving her tack to Woodbine following the conclusion of the Northlands meeting on Oct. 5, and has since added two wins here and two at Fort Erie. Through Thursday, she has won 43 races from 536 mounts for purses of more than $580,000.

"It's been awesome here; I've really enjoyed it," said Carignan, 20. "There are some very good riders in the room here, and they've been helping me."

Following the conclusion of the meeting, Carignan will be heading to Payson Park, where she will gallop horses for trainer Mac Benson.

"I plan to come back here, at least for the start," Carignan said. "I'd like to stay all year."

Ex-apprentice Moore may get backing

Although he lost his apprentice allowance on Aug. 18, there also could be some voting support for Matt Moore.

Moore, 26, was based at Woodbine and won 23 races from 307 rides for purses of $700,000.

Fedora plans to stay out West

Fedora, 26, started out riding Quarter Horses at Ajax Downs in Ontario and had her first tastes of Thoroughbred racing at Beulah Park and Hawthorne.

After moving back to Ontario, Fedora rode six winners at Woodbine and three at Fort Erie before deciding to try her luck in Vancouver this season.

Represented by agent Trapper Barroby, who had been with Justin Stein at Woodbine before returning to the West Coast, Fedora won 40 races from 347 mounts at Hastings for earnings of more than $600,000.

"I had a great year," Fedora said from her Vancouver residence. "I'm definitely staying. I really feel at home here. I'm really enjoying it. I'm very excited for next year."

Stianson enjoys solid Assiniboia season

Stianson, 25, had ridden more than 300 winners at unrecognized meetings in Alberta before deciding to give Winnipeg a whirl this season. The stewards there allowed her to ride with a 10-pound apprentice allowance and she promptly took Assiniboia Downs by storm, winning the first four races and leading through much of the meeting.

But after losing her appeal of a third whip infraction, for which she was fined $600, Stianson packed her bags and returned to Lethbridge, Alberta, with 16 days left in the Assiniboia meeting.

Stianson finished with 58 wins from 323 mounts at Assinibioa Downs and another 10 Thoroughbred winners at Lethbridge. On the season, her 370 mounts earned approximately $535,000.

Husbands wins with first five on Thursday

Patrick Husbands won with his first five mounts on Thursday's card at Woodbine. He had two seconds and a third with his other three mounts on the 10-race program.

Through Thursday, Husbands is second in the Woodbine jockey standings with 152 wins, three fewer than leading rider Jim McAleney. The meet runs through Dec. 7.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink