Updated on 04/06/2012 11:30AM

Woodbine: Essence Hit Man out for repeat in Jacques Cartier

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Essence Hit Man, named top sprinter in Canada for 2011 at the Sovereign Awards gala on Thursday evening, will try to win the $150,000 Jacques Cartier Stakes for the second year in a row Saturday at Woodbine.

Essence Hit Man, a rapid 5-year-old trained by co-owner Audre Cappuccitti, set a sizzling pace en route to a two-length score in last year’s Jacques Cartier, and covered the six furlongs in a snappy 1:08.16.

Essence Hit Man subsequently ran well during a light campaign, but he never found the mark again until his season finale in the Grade 3 Kennedy Road Stakes Nov. 19. He defeated a solid field that day, after running second in the allowance prep for that six-furlong dash.

Cappuccitti said an equipment change led to an improved performance from Essence Hit Man in the Kennedy Road.

“I went with a ring bit,” Cappuccitti revealed. “He had always run with a snaffle, and he’s much more controlled with a ring bit. It made a big difference.”

Essence Hit Man spent part of the winter in Florida before returning here to do his major preparations for the Jacques Cartier.

“I sent him to Florida in early January,” Cappuccitti recalled. “He didn’t do much down there. I think he had a quarter-mile breeze, and then I brought him back here.”

Cappuccitti said Essence Hit Man has worked encouragingly, which included a five-furlong training-track work in the fog March 17 that wasn’t recorded. A son of Speightstown, Essence Hit Man also breezed three-quarters in a sizzling 1:11.20 on the training track March 23.

“That [March 23] work was too fast,” said Cappuccitti. “I wasn’t very pleased with it, but he’s doing pretty good. I’m happy with him.”

Two other front-runners were entered, the Keeneland-based Madman Diaries and Shabaab, who was supplemented for $3,000.

Madman Diaries was Canada’s champion 2-year-old in 2010, when he won two stakes and ran fourth in the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He is winless in five starts since the beginning of 2011.

Madman Diaries finished sixth two races ago on dirt at Gulfstream in the Florida Sunshine Millions Sprint, and is coming off a head loss there in a five-furlong optional claimer on the grass.

“As he’s gotten older, he’s shown an affinity for either the Polytrack or the turf,” said trainer Wesley Ward. “He’s been in front the majority of his life. We’ll have to play it by the break, and go from there. He couldn’t be doing any better.”

If a hotly contested speed duel materializes, the table could be set for Paso Doble, who was cross-entered in Friday’s Debut Stakes.