05/09/2012 11:24AM

Woodbine: Low-profile trainer Ensom starts off meet by going 6 for 6


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Owner/trainer Jim Ensom had his best year to date in 2011, sending out seven winners and a total of 12 in-the-money finishers from just 16 starters. And while Ensom has changed his modus operandi this year, with permanent stalls at Woodbine for the first time, the results have been nothing less than spectacular.

After watching Kawaguchi win for the second time at the meeting here last Sunday, one day after stable star Sweet Starlet had completed a similar double, Ensom is 6 for 6 here this spring.

“So many things have to go right, and nothing can go can wrong,” said Ensom, who ended last year on a winning note with Absoulute Heaven. “I can’t explain it.”

Ensom, 35, had treated training more as a hobby than a profession since saddling his first entrant at Mountaineer Racetrack late in 2002.

Based at the Teen Ranch in Caledon, Ensom trained his horses there and also had a farm close to Woodbine which acted as a way station with his racetrack appearances basically limited to breezing and racing his runners.

Ensom, a former professional hockey player, also had been a hockey instructor at Teen Ranch, a Christian youth sports camp which is owned by his father-in-law, Mel Stevens.

“We sold our personal farm last winter,” said Ensom. “We’d started up the horses at Teen Ranch, in early January, and came in here in mid-March. They were pretty fit by then.

“My wife, Corrie, did a lot of riding with them and they’d raced late last year – they didn’t lose a lot.”

Absoulute Heaven got the barn off to a good start when she won the very first race of the meeting when in for a claiming price of $7,500 at five furlongs.

Eight days later, Absoulute Heaven dropped in for $6,250 and won by 6 1/2 lengths at 5 1/2 furlongs as her Beyer Speed Figure went from 58 to 81.

“I thought she’d run well first time out, but on a fitness level she was certainly not at her best,” said Ensom. “She won that race on sheer heart. She tries her guts out.

“I knew her next one would be a lot better. She ran that big Beyer, and did it pretty impressively.”

Absoulute Heaven is a New York-bred and that effort attracted a buyer from that state. Owner Nicholas Laneve purchased the 8-year-old privately and she finished fifth for a $12,500 claiming price at Finger Lakes on April 30.

“I asked a couple of other trainers, and they thought selling her was the right thing to do,” said Ensom. “She’s 8; that was part of the decision.”

Sweet Starlet, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred, had won her seasonal bow for the optional $60,000 claiming price in a second-level allowance race on April 13 and was competing in the same classification but without the tag last Saturday.

“She’s just been fantastic,” said Ensom, who claimed Sweet Starlet for $20,000 here last June and has sent her out to win 5 of 9 starts while adding a second and 3 thirds under her regular rider Gerry Olguin.

“I expected her to run huge in her first start,” Ensom said. “I never work a horse fast and when she came back and worked in just over a minute in her first breeze here I knew she was a much-improved horse.”

“And, I still think she’s better on turf.”

Kawaguchi, a 4-year-old Florida-bred, was a maiden after 12 starts but had finished second five times when she was claimed for $12,500 by Ensom here last fall.

“I loved her from the day I got her,” said Ensom. “I brought her down here, and she was training great.”

Ensom sent out Kawaguchi for the first time in a $20,000 maiden claiming race and instructed Olguin to give the filly a good test.

“I told him to ride her right to the wire. I wanted to know just what we’d got,” said Ensom, who was surprised when the filly prevailed by a hard-fought neck as the prohibitive favorite. “When Gerry came back he told me that was what she had.”

Ensom wasted no time in lowering Kawaguchi to the $10,000 level and although she won convincingly her Beyer Speed Figure declined from 58 to 50.

“She’s not the horse she is when she’s training in the morning,” said Ensom. “She does just what she needs to do, to win. She used to do just what she needed to do to finish second.”

Despite his amazing start, Ensom is finding the going tough with the move to the backstretch.

“It’s killing me,” said Ensom, who lives in Orangeville with his wife and children Elly and Ty, and spends a couple of hours commuting each day.

“It’s a crazy lifestyle. I’m in every morning at 3:45, and do my own feeding so I’m here 12 hours a day.”