08/20/2004 12:00AM

As B.C. Derby nears, local contenders seem outclassed


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - For the next couple of weeks, many visitors of Hastings will have a tough decision between betting on the superfecta or heading over to the dog show at the Pacific Coliseum.

Yes, the annual fair has arrived at the adjacent Pacific National Exhibition, and the makeup of the crowd at Hastings is completely different than usual. Instead of your hardened handicappers, a lot of fairgoers will slip over from the PNE grounds and either just watch the races or make a small wager on a horse who has the same astrological sign or is named after a distant cousin.

For the serious player, this brings up the possibility of the occasional overlay, but many will complain that it is not worth fighting the increased traffic and the likely weight gain that comes with not being able to walk by the mini-donut stand. Of course, the good news is that it's easy to stay at home and wager either by phone or over the Internet with your HorsePlayer Interactive Account.

The best thing about the PNE is that it means the major races at Hastings are just around the corner, including the biggest prize, the $250,000 B.C. Derby on Sept. 26. Given the performances of the local 3-year-olds at the meet, it's not likely that the winner is currently on the grounds.

The top Beyer Figure for a 3-year-old colt or gelding going around three turns at Hastings this year is 81, which was posted by Future Flash when he won a $50,000 optional race June 5. But Future Flash subsequently was very rank in the Jim Coleman Province and B.C. Cup Stallion Stakes, and went unplaced both times.

Tobe Suave posted a 76 Beyer Figure for his win in the Burnaby on July 1, but finished a dull third in the Province and then was well beaten when he faced older horses in a prep for the Canadian Derby.

The most impressive race by a 3-year-old at the meet was by Mark of Diablo, but he was put on the shelf following his win in the 6 1/2-furlong City of Vancouver on May 24 and is unlikely to be ready in time for the B.C. Derby.

If Regal Red ran against the local crop, she would be favored. Her last two stakes wins were on the same day the boys ran, and both times she ran faster while under wraps. Regal Red developed a pus pocket following her easy win in the B.C. Cup Stallion Stakes on Aug. 2 and missed some training, but resumed galloping this week. Her trainer, Robbie Anderson, said she will make her next start in the B.C. Oaks.

Victory Light to call Hastings home

It is possible that the B.C. Derby winner will be on the grounds this week. Trainer Tom Longstaff reported that owner Dan Sutherland has purchased Victory Light, and he's supposed to arrive here Tuesday. A Kentucky-bred gelding, Victory Light was stakes placed at 2, and his 89 Beyer Figure for finishing fourth in the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park stands out. Mark of Diablo also ran in the WinStar Derby and finished 10th.

Although his Beyers stand out, Victory Light is still eligible for a non-winners of two. He ran up the track in his most recent race, a nonwinners-of-two allowance race at Saratoga on Aug. 7, but the track surface might have been a factor, Longstaff said.

"The tracks back east are completely different than what he'll be running on here," Longstaff said.

Off tracks are common here, and in his only start on an off track he finished fifth.

"The track at Hastings gets wet-fast more than anything else, and the ones back east are deep and get very greasy underneath," he said. "He should be all right."

Longstaff said Victory Light would start in the Richmond Derby Trial on Sept. 1, and he is hoping to get a work into Victory Light before the race.

"It cost Dan about $4,000 more to get him out here before next weekend, but he was willing to spend it in order to give him a work over the track," he said. "He should fit out here. I've got Louie Downtown in my barn, and he's been pretty competitive with the top 3-year-olds here, but I like the form of Victory Light better."