06/01/2006 11:00PM

All in all, a far better year for Van Overschot

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - With 4 wins from his first 13 starters, trainer Rob Van Overschot is off to a very good start at the Hastings meet. He is hoping to add to those totals when he saddles Power Chip in the Jim Coleman Province Stakes at Hastings on Sunday.

For Van Overschot, 47, the fast start is a big rebound from a year he would like to forget. Not only did he have a subpar season at the track in 2005, just 12 wins from 135 starts, he also went through a tough year personally. His marriage to jockey agent Leilani Collins fell apart, and last fall he was suspended because he refused to take a drug test. Although Van Overschot never tested positive for anything last year, he still had to go through rehab in order to get his license reinstated.

"It was a tough time," said Van Overschot. "I didn't realize it at the time, but all of the problems I was having at home were really a distraction from what I was trying to do at the track - especially after we split up. A lot of the time I had two kids at home and 35 horses to take care of. It wasn't easy to stay on top of things."

Van Overschot currently has 26 horses in training, and he is thankful that his clients stuck with him through the hard times.

"I wouldn't have blamed them if they had gone elsewhere," he said. "But they stayed with me, and they've given me some very nice horses to train. I only train for three people - Canyon Farms, Bob MacPherson, and Noel Roddick - and they've all been very supportive. Because of their loyalty I feel that I need to be very focused and produce for them. So far the hard work has paid off, and we're off to a good start."

Mostly because of a shortage of exercise riders at Hastings, Van Overschot gallops a few of his own horses. A few weeks ago he came off a horse on the stretch turn and was injured quite badly.

"I couldn't get out of bed for a week," he said. "I ended up with two fractured ribs, a fractured tailbone, and a fractured vertebrae. It was a bit of a setback but luckily Marion came in and really helped me out. She really held things together while I was recovering."

He was referring to trainer Marion MacHaffie. She was once married to Van Overschot and, because of his injuries, has stayed on to work as his assistant trainer.

The injuries won't stop Van Overschot from getting back on a few of his horses.

"I won't get on any of the tough ones," he said. "But it helps get the horses out if I can get on a few every day. I broke all the 2-year-olds, so I have a good idea about which ones to avoid."

Van Overschot will be stretching Power Chip out for the first time Sunday. Power Chip has started twice this year, and he is coming off of a sharp win in a $50,000 optional claiming sprint May 20. He finished a close third in the Jack Diamond Futurity last year, and his breeding certainly suggests that he will be able to handle a middle distance. He is a half-brother to Nitro Chip, who is a multiple stakes winner of $488,210.

"He seems like a nice horse," Van Overschot said of Power Chip. "He's still learning the game, but he's got some talent, and that's a pretty nice horse he's related to. I think he belongs in stakes company."

Van Overschot should know a stakes horse when he sees one. In 2003 he won eight stakes at Hastings, and in his career he has won 21 of 150 starts in stakes races.

Posthumous book from Coleman

The Jim Coleman Province is named after one of Canada's most famous sports writers. Jim Coleman, who received the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1984, wrote three books: "A Hoofprint on My Heart," "Long Ride on a Hobby-Horse," and "Hockey Is Our Game." He began his career with the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1930's. He was still writing articles and was a regular visitor to Hastings until his death in 2000.

When his widow, Maggie, and local sports columnist Jim Taylor were going through Coleman's keepsakes, they discovered a file filled with articles Coleman had written during his 70 years as a newspaper columnist. Taylor used the articles to produce a book, "50 Years of Canadian Sport From the Man Who Saw It All." Taylor will be at Hastings on Sunday to sign autographs on the book.