05/07/2012 1:58PM

Woodbine: Essence Hit Man has the speed to spare

Michael Burns
Essence Hit Man, with Jesse Campbell riding, wins the Vigil.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Essence Hit Man led off last year’s Woodbine meeting with a win here in the six-furlong Jacques Cartier Stakes and a second-place finish in the seven-furlong Vigil.

Now, after being named Canada’s champion male sprinter of 2011 at the Sovereign Awards ceremony here this April, Essence Hit Man already has gone one better, as he followed up a repeat in the Jacques Cartier by winning the Vigil here this past Sunday.

“I was really concerned about the seven furlongs,” said trainer Audre Cappuccitti, who also is the co-owner and breeder of Essence Hit Man in partnership with her husband, Gordon.

“If he lost I would have taken the blinkers off him. I made them as small as I could.”

Essence Hit Man also had been uncharacteristically tardy from the gate on several occasions dating back to last season.

“I took him back to the gate three times since his last start,” said Cappuccitti. “He was dancing around in there, and it was causing him to break slowly.”

The schooling apparently paid dividends, as Essence Hit Man broke on top under his regular rider, Jesse Campbell, and never looked back.

“When I saw the 7 horse [Signature Red] go with him early I thought he wasn’t going to get a breather,” said Cappuccitti. “I really wanted him to get one.”

Signature Red backed off, however, and Cappuccitti was able to relax as Essence Hit Man cut out manageable fractions and was able to hold sway late for a three-quarter-length victory over a charging Big Band Sound.

Essence Hit Man already has banked $216,000 this year. But, with the next local main-track sprint stakes for the division being the 6 1/2-furlong Bold Venture on July 18, when and where he could add to that total is up in the air.

“I’d like to try him on grass again,” said Cappuccitti, who has watched Essence Hit Man finish out of the money in two previous tries on the medium. “Or, I may have to look out of town.”

Beeker Street maturing quickly

Beeker Street never made it to the races as a 2-year-old.

“He came in here briefly toward the end of the year,” said Josie Carroll, who trains Beeker Street for the Donver Stable of Vern and Donna Dubinsky.

“He wasn’t ready to run. He’s a good-sized, heavy kind of horse. He just took a while to come around.”

Now, after spending the winter with Carroll at Palm Meadows, Beeker Street has come a long way in a short time, winning his maiden over seven furlongs in his first lifetime start here April 15 and doubling up in last Saturday’s $125,000 Queenston Stakes at the same distance.

And, while the timing and distance of the Queen’s Plate may prove to be problematic, Beeker Street just may have the talent to overcome those obstacles.

“He’s a pretty promising horse,” said Carroll.

Beeker Street, with the returning Patrick Husbands in the irons, broke on top from his outside post in the field of eight for the Queenston and moved smoothly to the front on the turn.

“He’s pretty versatile,” said Carroll. “I love that after he broke that sharply, he was able to settle back off the pace a little bit.”

The $1 million Queen’s Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, will be run here June 24.

“If we have Plate aspirations, it looks like we’re going to have to run in the Plate Trial,” said Carroll.

The $150,000 Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, will be run on June 3.

Macho Whiskey to stretch out in next start

Trainer Reade Baker unveiled a potential Queen’s Plate candidate here Sunday in Macho Whiskey, who left his stablemate Brandyman in second place in a six-furlong maiden race.

“I was pretty happy – I didn’t know if he could get up in there,” who trains the homebred Macho Whiskey – by Macho Uno out of Whiskey and Low – for Dick Bonnycastle. Baker had watched the gelding finish a close second after breaking poorly in his debut over six furlongs on sloppy going at Gulfstream four weeks earlier.

“I’ll look for a two-turn race for him, in about a month, and see if he’s a Plate horse or not.”

“I don’t think two turns will be a problem. His father was a two-turn horse, and his mother, who I trained, won a stakes around two turns.”

Cox liked the performance

Hard Not to Like, owned and bred by Garland Williamson and trained by Gail Cox, was back home Saturday evening after finishing sixth of 14 in last Friday’s Kentucky Oaks.

Racing on dirt for the first time and with jockey Rafael Bejarano replacing the suspended Robby Albarado, Hard Not to Like did not get off to the best of starts and wound up 11 lengths behind the winner.

“I think she ran great,” said Cox. “I was disappointed she didn’t get a better position early. If you don’t get out of there you wind up getting stuck on the rail, which she did, and then she had a horse stop in front of her.”

Hard Not to Like had come into the Kentucky Oaks off a second-place finish in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Ashland, which was her first start on Polytrack. She is eligible for both the Queen’s Plate and the Woodbine Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies on June 3.

** Christopher Griffith, Fort Erie’s leading rider last year, will be focusing more on Woodbine this season. Griffith is being represented by Al Raymond, who also books mounts for Martin Ramirez and apprentice Caroline Duquet.