05/01/2013 1:04PM

Woodbine notes: Aunt Els aims for fourth straight win in Fury Stakes

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Michael Burns
Aunt Els won the Ontario Lassie on Dec. 9 in her stakes debut and aims for her fourth straight win Saturday in the Fury Stakes.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Aunt Els rose from the claiming ranks to conclude her first campaign with a victory in the 1 1/16-mile Ontario Lassie Stakes in December. On Saturday, Aunt Els will look to pick up where she left off in the $150,000 Fury, a seven-furlong stakes that serves as a major stepping-stone to the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks on June 9.

“If she stays on course and shows enough ability, she’ll go on to the Oaks,” said Norm McKnight, who trains the homebred Aunt Els for Syd Cooper’s RMC Stable.

Aunt Els debuted for $32,000 here Sept. 16, finishing fourth, but then graduated at the same level in her next start and doubled up in a first-level allowance.

In the Ontario Lassie, her first start beyond six furlongs, Aunt Els led throughout for a one-length victory under returning rider Justin Stein. After the win, Aunt Els had a brief freshening before starting back up in mid-January in Aiken, S.C., where McKnight had 14 horses during the offseason.

“This is kind of what we planned,” said McKnight, who elected to bypass the open, six-furlong Star Shoot Stakes here on opening day and await the Fury, which is restricted to Ontario-born foals. “She’s very, very good right now. I’ve been very pleased with her breezes here. She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do.”

The Fury attracted a field of 10, headed by Spring in the Air, winner of last fall’s Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland and of the Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2012.

Pion has training in genes

Sylvain Pion was the trainer of record when Essence Hit Man returned to action here last Saturday with an impressive win in the $169,200 Jacques Cartier Stakes.

Essence Hit Man, who won his third straight Jacques Cartier and recently was named Canada’s champion sprinter for the second straight year, had been trained by Audre Cappuccitti, who died last fall.

A son, Larry Cappuccitti, is running the family outfit under the name A&G Racing Stable and is looking to obtain a trainer’s license. His father, Gord, was a partner with Audre as Essence Hit Man’s owner and breeder.

Pion, meanwhile, can enjoy seeing his name in lights after Essence Hit Man displayed his usual high turn of foot en route to a four-length victory under regular rider Jesse Campbell.

The 39-year-old Pion, born in Montreal, is the son of Fort Erie-based trainer Raymond Pion and from an extended racing family that includes trainers Bobby Pion and the late Rene Pion.

Sylvain Pion had spent 23 years working in the Fort Erie jockeys’ room before taking out his trainer’s license and saddling his first winner in 2009.

Essence Hit Man followed up his 2012 Jacques Cartier win with a victory in the seven-furlong Vigil. That Grade 3, $150,000 stakes will be renewed here June 2.

Apprentice Ryan returns Friday

Sheena Ryan, who rode her fourth career winner here last fall and promptly hung up her tack to preserve her apprentice allowance, will make her 2013 debut Friday with mounts in the first two races.

“For her to start up and win one earlier would have kind of been hurting her business,” said Ryan’s agent, Don Parente, who kept her under wraps for the first two weeks of the meeting. “By winning one later, next year she can have her allowance towards the fall, when business for a bug is better.”

Ryan will be riding with a 10-pound weight allowance until her fifth win, at which time it will drop to five pounds and last for one year. She can apply for an extension of that time limit, provided she does not compete during the Ontario offseason.

Ryan, who was born in Saskatchewan but raised in Ontario, is a graduate of Alberta’s Olds College jockey and exercise rider training program and started galloping horses for trainer Reade Baker here in 2010. The following spring, Ryan broke her pelvis in a barn accident that delayed her debut as a jockey by more than a year.

Starting out at Grand Prairie in Alberta last September, Ryan won with her first mount at Northlands Park and added two more wins there before moving east and scoring Nov. 11 with just her second mount here.

◗ Apprentice riders Skye Chernetz and Tommy Wong have been granted 126-day winter extensions of their five-pound apprentice allowances.

Chernetz, who was the leading apprentice jockey here last year with 24 wins and was a finalist for the Sovereign Award, will remain an apprentice until Dec. 26. She has two wins at the current meeting.

Wong’s allowance will last until Oct. 15. He rode 13 winners here last year and has added one at the 2013 meeting.

◗ Advance wagering on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby card, with the exception of pick-three, pick-four, and pick-six pools, will be available at all Woodbine Entertainment Group locations beginning at 3 p.m. Friday. The “pick” pools will not open until the conclusion of Friday’s live Churchill Downs program at approximately 7 p.m. Eastern.

The Churchill Downs cards Friday and Saturday will start at 10:30 a.m., and mutuels at all WEG sites will be open at approximately 10 a.m. The Kentucky Oaks-Derby double again will be offered.

◗ Handicapping author Jim Mazur will be back at Woodbine on Saturday for a Kentucky Derby handicapping seminar, beginning at 11 a.m. on the third floor of the grandstand. Free copies of “The Triple Crown Handicapper” and “Derby Zone” will be available for the first 125 attendees. Registration is available at WoodbineEntertainment.com/seminars.