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Wilson has a lot on her plate Jockey's popularity soars heading into the 'Prince'

She looks like an angel and rides like the devil.

A horse named Mike Fox will be the betting favorite in Sunday's $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes. But his jockey, Emma-Jayne Wilson, is already the star of this year's edition of the Fort Erie Race Track's marquee event.

The 26-year-old, 110-pound bundle of riding and well-spoken public-relations savvy became the darling of her native land three weeks ago. That's when her heads-down, whipping, pumping, driving finish got Mike Fox to the finish line first in the $1 million Queen's Plate and made her the first woman jockey to win Canada's most famous horse race.

"It's been just magical. It was magic. I thoroughly enjoyed myself," Wilson said of the way her life changed after the victory at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack.

Autograph sessions, television and radio appearances, congratulatory ads in newspapers and magazines followed. Even on the back stretch at Fort Erie last Sunday morning, she was constantly interrupted by well-wishers before and after she returned to Mike Fox's back for his major workout between the first and second jewels of Canada's Triple Crown.

"My life hasn't changed, but Emma's certainly has," said Mike Fox's trainer, Ian Black.

Racetrack regulars shouldn't have been surprised at Wilson's success. After all, she'd been Woodbine's leading rider for the past two years. She won Sovereign Awards as Canada's top apprentice in 2005 and 2006 and took the big one, the Eclipse Award, as North America's champion apprentice last year.

"She's amazing. I'm just riding her coattails," said Mike Luider, the former Fort Erie trainer who has worked as Wilson's agent since a year and a half before she rode her first winner at Fort Erie in August 2004.

"To be quite frank, the day I rode my first race, that was glory for me," she said. "I mean, I was happy to ride five races and finish last in all of them. As far as I was concerned my dream had come true. I was a jock.

"She studies films, she handicaps the races, she works out. She's smart and she's a hard worker," Luider said.

"Forget gender and everything else. She's just a very, very good jockey. Very strong, very smart. That's what you like. She's a top rider," Black said.

Wilson shed some light on her dedication in her post-Plate news conference.

"Before I even started at the race track I was working for Park Stud and I worked at the Keeneland [Ky.] sales in 2001," she said.

"Last night I went through a book that I had bought -- 'Women In Racing' -- when I was there when it first came out. I was flipping through the pages and out fell a little piece of paper that I had written on. It said 'On this day I, Emma-Jayne Wilson, promise, promise to make it as a jockey.'

"It was short and sweet but it was dated and everything. And I remember writing that before I ever sat on a racehorse, Sept. 14, 2001. . . . I read it in the [jockey's dressing] room before I went out and rode this race. It just gave me that inspiration that I had deep down inside for when I wanted to be a jockey, to make this happen."

Wilson called on all her skills and experience to get Mike Fox home first and, with her horse's stalking style, she probably will have to work hard to earn her 10 percent again Sunday.

"As far as I'm concerned, I should work that hard in the stretch every single time," she said. "But when horses dig down deep for you like that, you dig down even deeper. You just find untapped reservoirs of energy and adrenaline. It's just inspiring."

And confidence building.

"Let's say if Mike Fox from the 70-yard pole home in the Queen's Plate shows up for even just a little bit of the race on Prince of Wales day, I don't think they have a chance," she said.

e-mail: rsummers@buffnews.com

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