11/28/2002 1:00AM

$50,000 claim finally paying off

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It's not very often that someone shells out $50,000 to claim a horse in this neck of the woods, so it was a big surprise to many when Fred Kwan claimed Irish Pleasure for that amount in his second start of the year on June 8.

There certainly wasn't anything wrong with Irish Pleasure's form. He was stakes placed at 2 and 3, and had looked good winning a $35,000 optional sprint in his first start as a 4-year-old this year. But in order to get back that type of investment, a horse would have to win a stakes or quite a few higher-priced claiming races, not an easy task.

Irish Pleasure can win a good chunk of the claiming price back Sunday in the $28,000 Au Revoir.

Kwan had plenty of success with Galavant, a horse he claimed for $17,500 who went on to win four stakes here, including the Au Revoir in 1999.

"I lost him in California for $25,000 in January and was looking for a replacement," he said. "Irish Pleasure fit the bill for the kind of horse I wanted. He hadn't run that much, and showed a lot of potential. He finished second to I'm Free and Diglett, and can run short as well as long."

At first it didn't look like money well-spent. In his first race under Kwan's silks, Irish Pleasure finished a non-threatening fifth in a $50,000 optional race and then a distant last in the Hong Kong Jockey Club. He came within a head of winning a $35,000 optional sprint Sept. 2 but then finished last behind the same horse, Continental Success, in his next start. Dropped back in for $35,000 Oct. 6, Irish Pleasure responded with a shocking upset, paying $65.10.

Irish Pleasure won his second straight in the Lions Gate Allowance, which was restricted to non-stakes winners this year, going gate to wire over a sloppy track.

Kwan gives a lot of credit to the turnaround in Irish Pleasure to his trainer, Tony Cizik.

Cizik came here from Winnipeg in 1995, and although he holds a trainer's license, he has mostly been employed as an exercise rider.

"I've trained a few cheap ones but I like to do everything myself, so it's hard to train too many at one time," he said.

Irish Pleasure was gelded soon after being claimed, but Cizik said he doesn't think that's the main reason for the horse's improved performance lately.

"He requires a lot of attention," Cizik said. "He's a very sociable horse and likes to have someone to play with. Since he's my only horse at the track I can spend a lot of time with him. It just seems to settle him down, and he's not nearly as nervous as he used to be."

Cizik is very happy with the way Irish Pleasure is coming into Sunday's race, in which he will face Vernon Invader.

"I don't know if he's as good as Vernon Invader, but my horse seems to be peaking and some of the others might be over the top," Cizik said.

Alex Murray, who trains Vernon Invader, said his horse has been plagued by foot problems throughout his career, and Murray wasn't exactly raving about the current condition of Vernon Invader's feet.

"Don't get me wrong, they're fine," he said. "But they were a lot better when he won the BC Cup Classic in the summer. He should run a good race though."

Costly change of mind

Tom Smith of Vancouver won the Daily Racing Form-sponsored handicapping contest held here last weekend. He took home $9,135 for finishing in front of 160 other contestants.

Wayne Snow, who is the agent for leading apprentice Nicola Wright, finished second. He would have won if he had stuck to his original ticket, which included Bolivar, a horse Wright rode that paid $13.80 for winning the sixth race.

Snow had put in all of his wagers before the first race. But when someone told him he was ahead in the contest, he changed his bet in the sixth.

"I choked," he said. "I went conservative and switched off of Bolivar to the favorite Rugged Cliff. I would have been an easy winner if I would have left it alone."