07/04/2012 12:36PM

Woodbine: Estella tries to put trainer Fung into Ontario Damsel spotlight


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Paul Fung has become accustomed to keeping a low profile here at Woodbine, with his stable of eight situated in the sales barn area on the outer reaches of the backstretch. But the 52-year-old Fung could find himself in the spotlight with the up-and-coming Estella, who will be seeking to give herself and her trainer their first stakes win in Saturday’s $150,000 Ontario Damsel.

“She’s right at the top of her game,” said Fung, a native of Kingston, Jamaica who has been a fixture around the racetracks in his homeland and here in Ontario since the mid-1970s. “I expect her to run well. If she gets beat, it will be by a better horse.”

Fung first came to Canada in 1979 and owned horses in the late 1980s, using Steve Attard as his trainer. While Fung had worked as an assistant trainer in Jamaica, and had long considered taking out his trainer’s license, it was only recently that he actually took the plunge.

“It was something that was going on for a while but I’d never really made an effort to go and get it,” said Fung. “Then, when I was back in Jamaica for quite a while, I decided to do it.”

Fung’s first Canadian starter was Still Sharp, who put together back-to-back wins at Fort Erie in the summer of 2009. Fung’s first visit to the winner’s circle at Woodbine was with Diamondsdiplomat, who graduated for $32,000 here in the summer of 2010 and added two wins the following season.

And then along came Estella, an Ontario-sired filly owned and bred by Fung’s main clients Christopher and Patrick Fung, who are members of the trainer’s extended family.

“She’s a nice filly,” said Fung, who is in his second season of being based at Woodbine. “I always expected her to do well.”

Estella didn’t take long to make her mark as she overcame a troubled start to prevail in her seven-furlong debut in restricted company here last Nov. 19. Two weeks later, Estella swung back in the Ontario Lassie, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-bred 2-year-old fillies, and ended eighth.

After wintering in Ontario, Estella returned in a restricted seven-furlong allowance here April 22 and was bet down to 3-2 favoritism. But, after being in striking range through the first half-mile, Estella was empty and finished sixth.

“She wasn’t herself that day,” said Fung. “She had a lot of problems after the race. She had a lot of mucus, and she was in heat. We didn’t really notice it until after the race.”

The real Estella was back on May 21 as the filly rallied to miss by just a neck in a restricted allowance over 6 1/2 furlongs of Polytrack.

And then, again facing Ontario-sired opposition but over 1 1/16 miles of turf, Estella came up with her best effort to date as she overcame a slow start and rallied from well off the pace to score by a half-length under jockey Patrick Husbands.

“Her pedigree suggested she would like the turf,” said Fung, pointing out that Estella’s second dam, Supremo, had produced E.P. Taylor Stakes winner Vidor. “She’d also worked prior to that on turf, and she was awesome. Patrick was on her that day, and he really liked her.”

Husbands will not be back for the Ontario Damsel, as he has the mount on probable favorite Dene Court for trainer Mark Casse. Gerry Olguin has been recruited for the mount on Estella.

Olguin has ridden two turf stakes winners at the meeting, with the latest being Stunning Stag in last Sunday’s Ontario Jockey Club.