04/25/2013 2:17PM

Woodbine: Essence Hit Man eyes third straight Jacques Cartier victory

Michael Burns
Essence Hit Man was Canada's champion sprinter in 2011 and 2012.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Fitness is a major handicapping factor during the early portion of the Woodbine meet, and there appears to be readier horses in Saturday’s $150,000 Jacques Cartier Stakes than the highly accomplished Essence Hit Man.

Essence Hit Man, Canada’s champion sprinter in each of the past two years, is trying to win the six-furlong Jacques Cartier for the third consecutive year. He put together a fabulous 2012 campaign, during which he notched two Grade 3 stakes, the Vigil and Bold Venture.

Essence Hit Man has been idle since Nov. 25, when he was softened up in a speed duel before fading to fifth in the Grade 3 Kennedy Road Stakes. Regular rider Jesse Campbell said he couldn’t be happier with the way Essence Hit Man has been working.

“He’s training as good as he was after his two first wins last year,” Campbell explained. “Physically, mentally, he couldn’t be doing any better. We’re really looking forward to turning him loose. Our only concern is that he doesn’t have the miles underneath him that he needs. What do you do? Do you run him, or work him four or five more times? With his style, nothing can emulate a race. He’s always been better his second time out. He’s that much stronger and fitter. That being said, everybody else making their first start is in the same boat.”

Essence Hit Man’s longtime trainer, Audre Cappuccitti, died last fall, and he is currently trained by Sylvain Pion, who is taking the blinkers off the 6-year-old.

Trainer Reade Baker entered the Bear Stable runners Bear Tough Tiger and Bear No Joke, who ran one-two in their last start in the Kennedy Road.

Bear Tough Tiger took the six-furlong Kennedy Road by a neck, for which he earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure. His 4-for-8 record in 2012 was a big part of the reason why he was second in the Sovereign Award voting for champion sprinter.

Bear No Joke came into his own when he notched a $40,000 conditioned claimer in July. He went on to run second in the Kenora Stakes, before clearing the second allowance condition in an optional claimer.

Baker said he sent the two “bears” to Curraghmore Farm in Ontario after their last race, before shipping them to Florida.

“They went to Palm Meadows the first week of January, and they’ve been back [at Woodbine] for two works now,” Baker said. “They’ve both worked five-eighths in 59 and change. We’ve done everything we can do. I’m just hoping for some racing luck.”

Upgrade is the lone winter-raced entrant. Trained by Michelle Nihei, Upgrade prevailed in his last start over about seven furlongs, in an optional claimer on the Polytrack at Keeneland.

Hammers Terror, who won the Charlie Barley Stakes here last June, is coming off the sidelines following a series of bullet works at Keeneland for trainer Mike Stidham.