08/03/2006 12:00AM

Changes to B.C. Cup controversial


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It will be a different look and feel when Hastings puts on its biggest day of racing Monday.

Since the B.C. Cup was conceived in 1996, all seven stakes on the card had been restricted to British Columbia-breds. Citing dwindling foal numbers in the province and short fields the last couple of years, management at Hastings opened up the three races for older horses - Classic, Distaff, and Sprint - to horses bred or owned in British Columbia.

"It's not a decision that was taken lightly," said Chuck Keeling, the head of racing for Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. "It's a tough balancing act between providing our horseplayers with a quality product and meeting the needs of the various partners in the business. We knew the breeders would be disappointed in our decision, but if the trend of shorter fields continued, our horseplayers wouldn't support B.C. Cup the way they have in the past."

When the B.C. Cup was first introduced, the foal crop in the province was averaging in the high 600's. In 2004, only 454 horses were born in the province. According to Keeling the number of mares in foal this year has increased.

"I told the breeders that if we got up to 600 foals a year we would go back to the original format," he said. "We know how important the day is to the breeders, but we also have to weigh that against what our horseplayers are looking for. Four years ago we averaged 7.7 horses in the three races and last year it was five."

Of course the breeders in the province have a different opinion. Bryan Anderson and his wife, Carol, were the leading breeders in B.C. last year and they aren't happy with the change.

"We certainly appreciate that they're trying to please their customers, but I don't think they realize just how important the day is to the breeders in the province," said Carol Anderson. "It's the one day that everyone loves and we all pull together for it. It's kind of sacred to us."

One of the beneficiaries of the change is Ole Nielsen of Canmor Farms. Nielsen owns Monashee, a Kentucky-bred who will be a prohibitive favorite in the Distaff. Nielsen was recently inducted into the B.C. Horse Racing Hall of Fame, partly because of his work as president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

"I am violently opposed to the change," he said. "I understand the need for more numbers, but it's been a great day for the breeders and a great day of racing. I think it's a shame they opened it up."

From a bettor's perspective, the move has turned out to be a good one. The Classic drew eight horses and appears to be a very competitive race. Either True Metropolitan or Spaghetti Mouse will likely be favored. Monashee is such a standout in the Distaff that management has to be pleased that the race filled with six horses. The Sprint came up light with just five horses, but it's a great field with Notis Otis, My Master, Lord Nelson, Metatron, and Five Point Star.

Leloup launches comeback

The Sprint would have had a couple more horses if the seventh race on Saturday hadn't filled. The $50,000 optional claiming race drew a full field of 10, including Leloup, who will be making his first start since he won the 2003 S.W. Randall Plate.

Leloup worked a sharp five furlongs in 58.80 seconds on July 23, but his trainer, Peter Stephen, isn't expecting too much from him Saturday.

"He's training well enough," said Stephen, "But I'm viewing it as just a race to get him going."

Stephen said a bowed tendon kept Leloup away for so long. Leloup was treated with stem cell therapy.

Stephen has another horse in his barn, Shacane, who was treated with stem cell therapy for a bowed tendon. Shacane is running in the B.C. Cup Classic on Monday.

Filly learns to relax

Tracy McCarthy, who trains Monashee, appears to have another talented filly in her barn in Hurry an Notis. The 3-year-old Hurry an Otis won a maiden race by 14 1/2 lengths last Sunday and is a full sister to probable B.C. Cup Sprint favorite Notis Otis.

Although Hurry an Notis had shown signs of brilliance in her morning workouts, she had finished up the track in her first two starts. Like with Monashee, the turnaround can partly be attributed to the addition of ear cones.

"We just wanted her to pay attention so we added the cones," said McCarthy. "She held her breath in her first two starts, but I think the cones and the addition of blinkers helped her relax. She has a tremendous amount of talent and our job is to try and get it out of her."