09/08/2011 2:13PM

Woodbine: Ensom's two-horse stable paying its way

Michael Burns
Trainer Jim Ensom has won four races at the Woodbine meet with only two horses, which are stabled at a Christian youth center.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Jim Ensom, operating with a two-horse stable, has been having a solid meeting at Woodbine with four wins, two seconds and two thirds from 10 starts and more than $84,000 in purse earnings.

And if Ensom is not a readily recognizable figure here, either on the backstretch or in the grandstand, that is due to the fact that he is not often on the grounds.

Ensom keeps his horses at Teen Ranch, a Christian youth camp in Caledon which is owned by his father-in-law, Mel Stevens, and is about a 40-minute ride from Woodbine.

Sweet Starlet, the current star of Ensom’s stable, already had made that journey four times since she was claimed for $20,000 here June 16.

And, while Sweet Starlet checked back into temporary quarters here Wednesday after being entered in a first-level turf allowance for fillies and mares on Saturday, she wound up as the lone also-eligible when the field of 10 appeared on the overnight.

Ensom, obviously, was not thrilled by the prospect of seeing Sweet Starlet possibly being shut out but still could take pleasure in his most recent acquisition.

“She’s been fantastic,” said Ensom. “Everything we’ve asked her to do, she’s done.

“And, she loves it at the farm. She loves the other horses, and the people coming up and petting her.”

Sweet Starlet, a 4-year-old filly, has banked more than $40,000 through her four starts for Ensom, capped by a victory in a $40,000 claiming race for nonwinners-of-two at 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf here Aug. 24.

That date marked the 35th birthday of Ensom, who was born in nearby Oshawa and was introduced to the races by his father, David, at an early age.

“I loved the horses, but I was focusing more on hockey at the time,” said Ensom.

That focus was well-placed as Ensom began playing junior hockey at the top level at age 16, first with the North Bay Centennials and then the Kitchener Rangers and the Owen Sound Platers. In 1994, he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I went to training camp there, in 1996,” said Ensom. “It was really my only good chance. They’d had a tough lineup there when I was 18, with players like Denny Savard and Jeremy Roenick.”

Ensom wound up starting the 1996 season with one of the Blackhawks farm teams, the Quad City Mallards of the Continental League, where his career effectively ended that Nov. 8.

“I just got knocked out one too many times, with concussions,” said Ensom.

There was an upside to the situation, however.

“I was done playing hockey, and now I knew I could get into racing,” said Ensom, who had maintained his interest as a spectator through his hockey-playing years.

Ensom has remained involved in hockey as an instructor in programs at Teen Ranch, which has its own Olympic-sized arena and has served as a training facility for NHL teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

It was Ensom’s connection with hockey that led to his meeting his wife, Corrie, who was working in the camp’s equestrian program.

Ensom furthered his knowledge of the Thoroughbred through his study of the riding horses there.

“My wife knew I loved the horses, and let me work with them,” said Ensom.

Late in the fall of 2002, Ensom took out his trainer’s license.

“The Woodbine meet was over when I got my license,” said Ensom. “I was just so excited to run a horse that I ended up going to Mountaineer.”

Ensom’s first starter, Local Calling, finished seventh on the penultimate day of 2002 but gave him the first win of his training career at Fort Erie the following June.

Through the ensuing years, he has maintained a small stable of horses with the vast majority in recent years having been acquired via the claiming route.

“I’ve thought about expanding,” said Ensom. “But, because we have two young kids right now, one or two horses is good.”

The children, 9-year-old Elly and 4-year-old Ty, were registered as the owners of Magnificent Tiger after Ensom claimed the horse at Gulfstream this March.

Absoulute Heaven, claimed here last fall for $16,000, had wintered at Gulfstream Park under the supervision of Tino Attard with Ensom jetting down on several occasions.

“Tino’s been a fantastic help,” said Ensom, who also cited Tino’s son, Kevin, and nephew, Stephen Chircop, for their assistance.

Back at Woodbine, Ensom was officially given a pair of stalls this spring for the first time.

“I primarily used them at the start, to get the horses fit,” said Ensom. “Once they were fit, I was basically bringing them up to the farm and keeping them fit there.”

Ensom’s training facility at Teen Ranch is a makeshift five-furlong grass track which Ensom himself cut out of a field. His wife, Corrie, is his exercise rider.

And the rather unorthodox approach has yielded its best dividends to date this season as his other charge, Absoulute Heaven, also has won a race and Magnificent Tiger scored back-to-back and was claimed for $12,500 from the latter outing.

“I certainly don’t count on it to feed the family,” said Ensom. “If you win it’s great, and if you lose there’s no stress. There are no owners, or anyone else to deal with.

“I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink, and I’m happy to spend a few thousand because I enjoy the game so much.

“But, as it is, we’re making money this year.”

In addition to future appearances at this meeting for both Sweet Starlet and Absoulute Heaven, Ensom also is looking toward the off-season as he plans to return to Gulfstream on a frequent basis, either to race or perhaps to replace one of his current runners if that need arises.

“I do want to win down there,” said Ensom. “That’s a goal.”