05/08/2002 11:00PM

Brown doing well with what he has in barn

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Trainer Jim Brown finished fourth in the trainer standings with 28 wins last year and had his best season ever when he finished second in 2000.

When assessing his stable earlier this year he figured he would be lucky to finish in the top 20. "I have a lot of 2-year-olds and I'm not overly impressed by my group of 3-year-old maidens," he said in early March. However, his horses seemed to improve as they got closer to running, and after getting off to a good start with three wins in his first 11 starts, Brown is feeling a lot better about making the program again this season.

One of the horses he's counting on to win a few races is Catahoula Rose. A 4-year-old filly, she won three races last year, including the B.C. Cup Stallion Stakes, and banked $107,671. A consistent horse, she appears to have some chance in the 6 1/2-furlong Strawberry Morn Stakes Saturday. "I don't know if she can sprint with them," said Brown. "But she's training good and if they come back to her, she might get a piece of it."

Catahoula Rose finished second to Queen of My Nights in the 6 1/2-furlong Fair Lady Stakes last year but she had been racing in Turf Paradise over the winter and had a fitness edge over the rest of the field. This year she won't have a conditioning edge but she's a fresh horse, and according to Brown, she really appreciated the winter off. "She was pretty tired after the B.C. Oaks [she finished fourth], and she hadn't had a real break since we first started her out as a 2-year-old. She's really blossomed over the winter and hopefully she'll make the transition into a decent older mare."

Wright doing fine in saddle

Nicola Wright, 24, doesn't appear to be having any trouble making the transition from galloper to jockey. After winning three races Wednesday evening she currently sits in fourth place in the jockey standings and figures to be riding plenty of live horses the rest of the meet.

Wright is from Wales and was working as an apprentice rider in England in 1999 when she went on a working vacation to Southern California.

She never went back home. "I was one of six apprentices under contract for a trainer that only had two horses he could ride apprentices on," explained Wright. "Sometimes I had to travel for five hours to ride one in the last who was around 100-1. It didn't seem like I had much of a future there."

In Southern California she galloped horses and worked for trainers Bob Baffert and Nick Canani. One of the fringe benefits of working for Canani was a trip to Dubai. "I galloped Sultry Substitute for Nick and I went with him when he ran over there in 2001. He didn't run very well but I had a wonderful time and they sure took good care of us."

While the pay was good and it was a lot of fun to gallop horses like Congaree, what Wright really wanted to do was ride. She heard about Hastings Park from jockey Robert Skelly, and knew that she would have a better chance of getting mounts in Vancouver than on the tough Southern California circuit.

She got off to a great start last September, winning seven races from her first 48 mounts, but she missed the last few weeks of the season when she went down in a spill and injured her rotator cuff. "It's healed perfectly and I just hope I can continue to ride the types of horses I've been able to get on so far."

* Jockey Sam Krasner is at least a few weeks away from riding. He's recovering from a shoulder injury and is waiting for the results to come back from recent tests. "He's feeling better but we'll have to see what the tests yield," said his agent Marty Kelly.