11/13/2003 12:00AM

Battle Group tries to build on debut victory

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - When Battle Group made his debut before a sparse crowd in the first race Oct. 26, those who had come out early were likely surprised by what transpired. What looked like a non-event, a five-horse $15,000 maiden race with no real standout, carried one of the more impressive performances at the meet.

Battle Group, who is entered in the eighth race Saturday, hadn't shown much in his morning workouts that day. The works were mostly slow and with plenty of space between, so it wasn't surprising that he was sent off at 5-1 in the short field. He broke slowly but quickly recovered, and it was pretty clear that he could run. Even though he was third going into the first turn, there wasn't much doubt that he was going to win. Yes, it was early in the race, but Battle Group's long stride stood out from the four other horses', and leading rider Pedro Alvarado had Battle Group completely under wraps. Battle Group won by 7 1/4 lengths and the final time of 1:17.47 for the 6 1/2 furlongs was comparable to the 1:17.07 posted by multiple stakes winner Kalfaari later in the day.

Battle Group's trainer, Janet Armstrong, is also off to an impressive start in her first year of training. She has started only 21 horses at the meet but has won three races, and most of her horses have been competitive when they've run. She also made a shrewd move to start a horse as talented as Battle Group for $15,000 and take him home after the race.

"I really wasn't worried about losing him," she said. "He's had problems and that's the reason the works were slow and spaced out. It seemed like every time he would work, he would come back with sore shins. He came out of the race in great shape, though."

Battle Group followed up his race with a strong four-furlong work in 48.40 seconds Nov. 8, which Armstrong said was "faster than I wanted."

Battle Group will add Lasix for his second start.

"He bled just a tiny bit in his race," said Armstrong. "Obviously it didn't affect him, but I don't want to risk him bleeding heavily in the middle of a race, so he'll run with Lasix."

A 3-year-old, Battle Group will find the competition a lot stiffer Saturday. He'll be facing multiple older stakes winners Find Our Star and Dancewithavictor in a $15,000 optional sprint. Point Five, a winner of 16 races and $242,425, will also run.

"I entered him in a couple of 3-year-old races but they didn't fill," said Armstrong. "We had to make a choice of either running him or turning him out for the year. He's going so well right now that we chose to run him at least once more before the meet ends."

Armstrong trains solely for Sid Belzberg, who races under the name Budget Stable. Belzberg has been a prominent owner in British Columbia, off and on, for over 20 years, and he also has horses in training in Southern California. Armstrong says Belzberg is commited to racing in British Columbia.

"He's put in a lot of work at his farm, which has a five-furlong training track, and he's continually looking for broodmares," said Armstrong. "I think he's more interested in the breeding part of it than anything. He's also brought in Dixieland Diamond to stand at stud."

Dixieland Diamond won the Coronation Futurity and the Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine as a 2-year-old in 1999.

Armstrong said she'll do most of the training at the farm and will ship in to Hastings to work horses.

"We'll bring the young ones in for schooling, of course, but most of the work will be done at the farm," she said. "The training track has a nice base to it and we just added a lot of sand to it. It's very kind on the horses."