05/12/2005 12:00AM

At 45, a fit Fuentes riding better than ever

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Jockey Frank Fuentes is off to the best start of his career. As of Thursday, he led the Hastings rider standings with 15 wins and had won with 35 percent of his mounts.

Fuentes has also been aboard the winner of four of the five stakes races run at the meet and has an excellent chance to make it five of six when he rides heavily favored Regal Red in the $40,000 Sun on Saturday. His only losing mount in a stakes race was with Lord Nelson in the opening day George Royal. Given a chance to make amends, Lord Nelson and Fuentes teamed up to win the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sprint last Saturday.

Fuentes, 45, missed the last month and a half of the 2004 Hastings meet with an injury to his knee and a sore back. He worked hard to get in shape over the winter and his effort has obviously paid off.

"I feel great," he said. "I'm 100 percent now, and so far it's been a lot of fun. I know it's not going to continue like this forever, so I'm going to enjoy it while I can."

Fuentes rode his first winner at Santa Anita in 1983 and has been a fixture at Hastings since 1987. His best year at Hastings was in 1998, when he won 100 races and finished fourth in the standings.

"It's funny looking back at it now," he said, "but I reached 100 wins with almost three weeks remaining in the meet but just couldn't get over the hump. It was a great year, though."

Fuentes has won 1,047 races in his career and has been the only rider on Lord Nelson since 2001. They've teamed up for 12 stakes wins.

"He seems as good as ever right now," said Fuentes of Lord Nelson, an 8-year-old gelding. "We knew he was a bit short for the George Royal, but he won his latest pretty easily. He's just tough."

Fuentes also rode Slewpast to a 3 1/2-length win in the Supernaturel Stakes last Sunday, and like her stablemate Regal Red did in 2004, Slewpast has dominated the local 3-year-old filly division.

"I liked her all spring," said Fuentes. "Every time I worked her I thought she could be something special, and she's really developed into a nice filly. She's very manageable and I can place her just about anywhere I want in a race. Regal Red is Regal Red, and I don't know if you can compare the two, but the way Slewpast is developing, she could be any kind."

Fuentes is the main rider for leading trainer Dino Condilenios, but he doesn't solely rely on Condilenios for his live horses.

"I'm happy to ride for the smaller outfits as well," he said. "I was really pleased to win two races for John VanLoon. He's been around for a long time and he still gallops his own horses. He's quite the guy."

Hard work and dedication have certainly paid off for Fuentes. He's at the track just about every morning and works as many horses as anyone. He changed agents this year to Gord Rumpole, who said, "I'm just living the dream right now. Don't wake me up."

Longden may be next for Lord Nelson

Condilenios was glowing following Lord Nelson's easy victory in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sprint.

"I knew he would run big with a race under his belt," he said. "Not many horses can run as well as he has for as long as he has. I think he has to be considered as one of the best B.C.-breds ever. For the past four years he's been the one to beat in every race he's been in at Hastings."

Lord Nelson has now earned $607,853 and the way he cruised to the lead at the head of the lane in the Hong Kong Jockey Club, he's going to be tough to dethrone as the head of the older handicap division. Condilenios added that the major goal for Lord Nelson is the $125,000 Lieutenant Governors' July 1 but that he could make his next start in the John Longden 6000 on June 4.

Roscoe Pito returns in allowance

Trainer John Snow is hoping Roscoe Pito will make a run at Lord Nelson. Roscoe Pito was the local horse of the year at 3, but had a rough time when he joined the older set last year, winning just one race from seven starts. He will make his first start of the year in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race Saturday.

"I think you will see a different horse this year," said Snow. "He had minor problems last year and it's tough to run against the top horses on the grounds when you're not at your best. Right now he's doing extremely well and I think he will run a big race Saturday."