Janice Attard’s Stunning Stag, with Gerry Olguin aboard, collared pacesetter Essence Hit Man at the sixteenth pole and went on to a three-length score in the featured $174,900 Grade 3 Vigil Stakes, Sunday at Woodbine.

Trained by Sid Attard, Stunning Stag, an Ontario-bred seven-year-old gelded son of Running Stag-Midday Fun, was making his seasonal debut in the hotly-contested event, which featured the even-money favourite and defending Vigil champion Hollywood Hit and Essence Hit Man, who set a six-furlong track record in the April 17 Jacques Cartier Stakes in his 2011 opener.

Essence Hit Man, with Jono Jones in the saddle, exploded from the gate and took the field through an opening quarter in :22.12, then a blistering half in :43.84, while being stalked by Hollywood Hit, last year’s Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s top male sprinter, who was also beginning his 2011 season.

Meanwhile, Stunning Stag was a reserved third in the field of five, seven lengths in arrears.

But when the field turned for home, after six furlongs was reached in 1:08.67, it was evident that Hollywood Hit wasn’t going to catch the leader. But Stunning Stag was quickly getting into gear and came charging, blowing by Essence Hit Man while essentially under a hand ride. The final time was 1:22.15.  

Signature Red, another Attard trainee, came on for third, two and one-half lengths further back, while Hollywood Hit retreated to fourth, 12 lengths behind the winner. Southdale rounded out the field in fifth.

“I just left him alone the first part,” explained Olguin.  “He was comfortable where he was.  He’s been working great, this horse, all spring.  He’s a wonderful horse.  He was getting tired at the end but they were running pretty fast.”

Added Attard, “We took our time with him (getting back to the races this year).  He kind of likes the cold weather.  We entered him yesterday, a prep at a mile and one-sixteenth, but the race didn’t go.”

Thus, Stunning Stag winds up in the Vigil and proves an easy winner.

Last year, Stunning Stag captured three of eight starts, including the Grade 2 Autumn Stakes at one and one-sixteenth miles, to close out another successful campaign. 

With today’s purse of $108,000, Stunning Stag has now earned over $800,000 in just 27 career starts.

Sent postward the 3-1 second choice, Stunning Stag returned $8.70, $4 and $3.20, combining with Essence Hit Man ($4.10, $3.80) for a $49.20 (3-2) exactor.  A 3-2-5 (Signature Red, $3) triactor was worth $143.40