12/06/2012 3:36PM

Woodbine: Aunt Els tries to extend McKnight's hot hand in Ontario Lassie

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Norm McKnight has been holding a hot hand here at Woodbine recently, with five wins from the last nine horses he sent to the post.

On Sunday, McKnight will be looking to apply some of that sizzle to a stakes with Aunt Els in the 1 1/16-mile Ontario Lassie for Ontario-bred 2-year-old fillies.

“She didn’t come in until late May,” said McKnight, who runs the shed row with the help of his able assistant and son, Brad McKnight. “She always looked like a pretty talented filly, but I expected her at most to be a useful claiming type. I never expected her to turn out this good.”

Aunt Els, a homebred who races for the RMC Stable of Syd Cooper, finished fourth when debuting for $32,000 at 5 1/2 furlongs here Sept. 16 and returned Oct. 28 at the same level to score a going-away, four-length victory.

McKnight was impressed enough by the maiden win to try Aunt Els in a first-level allowance at six furlongs.

Once again, Aunt Els had little difficulty as she stalked the pace and prevailed by four lengths under new rider Justin Stein, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 74, which is the highest in the field of six for the $150,000 Ontario Lassie.

That Nov. 23 victory also capped a natural hat trick for McKnight as he had sent out Nayeer and Italo to win the two preceding races.

“She went in fast time and beat a nice bunch of fillies,” McKnight said. “And, it looked like Justin didn’t even ask her to run. She did it effortlessly.

“Right after that, we decided we’d point her for the Ontario Lassie. I hadn’t even nominated her. I didn’t think she was that deep in talent.”

McKnight will be heading into Sunday’s card with a mark of 18-15-17 from an even 100 starters at this meeting, good for $663,000, and was 2-2-1 from 10 entrants at Fort Erie.

“Overall, I guess we’re pleased,” McKnight said. “It’s been one of our weaker years in numbers. We usually carry over 20 horses. We were hard-pressed to keep 20 in this year. Some of our young horses were injured, and we had to stop on them”

McKnight cites Big Jack as a case in point.

“We had high hopes for Big Jack,” McKnight said. “He showed a lot of talent. But he made just one start and later was found to have a bone chip in a knee, which required surgery.”

“I think he’ll be a solid horse next year.” said McKnight, who trains the homebred Big Jack for Cooper.

Big Jack debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong restricted maiden race here Nov. 18, opening up a lengthy lead before tiring in the final sixteenth to finish third.

Horses who did their bit for the McKnight Stable this year included Itzhoweroll, Let Th Kitten Purr, and Hitec Dave.

“Itzhoweroll has been a real solid competitor this year,” said McKnight, who has sent out the Kentucky-bred 4-year-old to fashion a record of 3-2-2 for earnings of $122,621 from 12 races.

Let Th Kitten Purr put together a double recently, winning a maiden $19,000 race and a $20,000 claiming race for nonwinners of two.

“We claimed him at Keeneland this spring for $40,000,” McKnight said. “It was a struggle to get his maiden broke.

“He started coming around, but we dropped him considerably. That seems to be the main ingredient.”

Hitec Dave was McKnight’s most recent winner, scoring for $23,500 here last Sunday to bring his seasonal line to 2-1-1 for earnings of $52,187 from 8 starts.

“He’s turned the corner; he’s raced well,” McKnight said.

Basically, with the type of horses we’ve had, we’ve done well,” added McKnight, who also began the season with Consolidator Joe and sent out that 4-year-old gelding for two victories before losing him via the claiming route.

“He was always a hard-knocking horse,” McKnight said. “We’ve missed him.”

Simon has high hopes for Huronia

Trainer Stu Simon flirted with a natural hat trick of his own here Wednesday night, sending out Huronia to win the fifth race and Dixie Troop to prevail in the sixth before watching Stolicho end second as the choice in race 7.

Huronia, a homebred 3-year-old filly whom Simon trains for the Chiefswood Stable of Bob and Mark Kremil, recorded her second win in three starts when she rallied to capture a restricted seven-furlong allowance for Ontario-sired nonwinners of two.

“She’s a nice filly,” said Simon, noting that Huronia would winter at nearby Chiefswood Farm. “She’ll fit in the Ontario-sired stakes program. “She’ll two-turn for sure, and I think she’ll turf. She’s one to look forward to.”

Public gets Sovereign Awards voice

Stacie Rogers, executive director of the Jockey Club of Canada, is giving racing followers a chance to become involved in the buildup to the 2012 Sovereign Awards.

“We’re trying to get the public more involved, with the awards themselves and in the voting process,” said Roberts, speaking at a meeting of the Toronto Thoroughbred Racing Club here Wednesday night.

To that end, past performances for candidates in all equine categories, including Horse of the Year, will be posted next week at jockeyclubcanada.com for two weeks.

Those who participate will be entered in a drawing, with the winner receiving two tickets to the Sovereign Awards and the opportunity to present the “People’s Choice Award” to the public’s top vote-getter as Horse of the Year.

The Sovereign Awards have been held here on the eve of the new Canadian racing season for the past two years, but no date has yet been set for next year as Woodbine’s live Thoroughbred racing dates have yet to be announced.