07/31/2003 11:00PM

Celt stands out as fastest horse on grounds

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - When they open the starting gate in Monday's British Columbia Cup Sprint at Hastings, there's not much question which horse will be in front.

Celt has blossomed into a very good sprinter and has displayed dazzling speed winning his last three races. He has always been fast and gave a hint of things to come when he closed out his 3-year-old year with an easy win over a very tough older horse, Buckeye Bates, in a $15,000 optional race last November. And while Celt has never won a stakes race, he did beat Hong Kong Jockey Club winner Bold 'n Keen in a $50,000 optional race July 1. It's likely Celt will be favored in the Sprint.

Trainer Dino Condilenios, who claimed Celt for $15,000 on behalf of Jean and Neal Sullivan, seems to have found the key to a horse who was very nervous when he first arrived in his shed row.

"He's become very fond of my pony, Monkey," said Condilenios. "He used to be a very hard horse to gallop, but now he's content to gallop along side of Monkey. No more running off or fighting with the exercise rider, he's just so much more relaxed now."

Celt flashed some of his speed when he worked five furlongs in 58.40 seconds last Monday, getting the first three furlongs in a rapid 32.80 seconds.

"He was pretty eager," said Condilenios. "Right now he's doing very well, so I expect he'll run a big race Monday."

Sam Krasner, who in the past has ridden a few speedy horses at Hastings, puts Celt right up there with some of the quickest ones he has been on.

"I rode a horse called Bird of Courage that left here and set a track record at Pomona," recalled Krasner. "Like Celt, there just wasn't another horse on the grounds that could keep up with him early. Bonecrusher was another. But he was different than Celt in that once he made the lead you could take a hold of him and he would relax. Celt just runs hard the whole way. He's a very, very fast horse."

Weights irk VanOverschot

Trainer Robert VanOverschot was so upset with the weight given to Stratoplan in the B.C. Cup Classic that instead of running, he has decided to ship Stratoplan to Emerald to run in the Seattle Slew Breeders' Cup on Aug. 10. The Seattle Slew is the final prep for the $125,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby on Sept. 1.

"I don't see how they can weight Lord Nelson and Stratoplan equally," said Van Overschot. "Lord Nelson has been the top older horse in the province for the last three years and Stratoplan has only won two races, his maiden and a 3-year-old stakes. But, technically, that's what they've done. Lord Nelson was given 120 pounds and Stratoplan 114, and with the weight allowance for 3-year-olds this time of the year, that makes them just about equal."

VanOverschot was equally displeased with Illusive Force being assigned the high weight in the Colts Division of the B.C. Cup Stallion Stakes, but plans to run him anyway.

"He's only won one race this year and that was back in April," he said. "He finished last in his last two starts so I think they're weighting him off of his 2-year-old year, and it's August. Plus, Dee's Love was given 119 pounds in the fillies division and she's never even tried to go long. I know they're not doing it intentionally, but the owners are starting to think they don't want us to run here."

One step closer to slots

If the Vancouver City Council had given a stronger positive message when it passed a motion that allows Hastings to apply for slot machines Thursday, Hastings's president, Phil Heard, would have immediately began implementing some of the changes that will be needed to accommodate the slots. Given the close vote by council, 5-4, however, Heard will wait until Hastings receives final approval before moving ahead.