09/21/2005 11:00PM

Churchill looking as strong as derby


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - While the $250,000 British Columbia Derby is the feature race at Hastings on Saturday, the supporting feature, the $50,000 Sir Winston Churchill, is every bit as good as the derby, if not better.

After all, Flamethrowintexan will return for the first time since winning the B.C. Derby last year. Lord Nelson, who has been the top older horse in these parts for the past four years, is making his first start since winning the John Longden Handicap on June 4. Also, possibly the best horse on the grounds this year, Quiet Cash, is in the field. Quiet Cash is coming off a very good second-place finish in the Longacres Mile on Aug. 21.

Plus, nine of the 10 horses entered are stakes winners, and five have won at least one graded stakes in their career. It is easily the best field of older horses that has been assembled in this neck of the woods in quite some time.

A gift race for Flamethrowintexan

It's not often they give money away at racetracks, but trainer Jim Penney has to consider Flamethrowintexan's last race a gift. Flamethrowintexan is a multiple stakes winner with earnings of $464,948, but he started his career for a $25,000 claiming price, and was eligible for a race for horses who had started at that price at Emerald Downs on Sept. 11.

Imagine the surprise of the people involved with the other four horses when Flamethrowintexan's name was called at the draw. Needless to say, he went off at a very short price and won under wraps. It might have been just what Flamethrowintexan needed after finishing up the track in the Longacres Mile in his previous start.

"We weren't in the race for the purse," said Penney from Emerald Downs. "We just wanted to build his confidence back up after the Mile. We weren't sure where we were going after the Mile, and when that race came up we used it to keep him sharp. It worked out beautifully."

Penney is well aware that the Churchill is not an easy spot.

"It's just a step below the Mile," he said. "We saw how good Quiet Cash was in the Mile, and Lord Nelson has been a pretty good horse."

Quiet Cash has only had one work since his second-place finish in the Mile on Aug. 21. Nevertheless, his trainer, Terry Jordan, is confident that Quiet Cash will run his usual good race. He has won 4 of his 6 starts this year and had excuses in both of his losses.

"He puts a lot of work into his galloping," said Jordan. "The other day I caught him down the lane in 13 [seconds] and change, so he's basically getting some kind of work in every few days. He should be fit enough."

Top assignment for Lord Nelson

Trainer Dino Condilenios wasn't happy with the weights in the Churchill, but he's still planning on running Lord Nelson. A homebred son of Maudlin, Lord Nelson was assigned high weight of 123 pounds, and it's easy to see why. Dating back to 2003, in 10 starts at Hastings, Lord Nelson has won seven times and has not been worse than second.

"I don't mind that he's carrying 123 pounds," said Condilenios. "I just think some of the other horses should be carrying more weight as well."

Gold Bridle in consolation race

Doug O'Neill, who is one of the leading trainers in Southern California, came close to having a horse in the derby. He shipped Gold Bridle up from California, but Gold Bridle didn't have enough earnings to get into the race.

Instead, Gold Bridle will probably be the favorite in the $50,000 Hastings Sophomore, which goes as the sixth race. The Sophomore wasn't part of the Hastings Stakes program, but when the B.C. Derby overfilled, it was added as a consolation.

"He was on his way up when I found out he wasn't going to get in," said O'Neill. "But that's all right, that's still a pretty good race."

Last year's local 2-year-old champ, Notis Otis, also didn't have enough earnings to get in the derby and will run in the Hastings Sophomore.

V.P. has two runners side by side

Thomas Bell has been living the dream lately, and if his luck continues, he could be holding the trophy after the 60th running of the B.C. Derby. Both of the horses he owns, Alexandersrun and Appearance Fee, have good shots in what appears to be a wide-open race.

Bell, a vice president of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., first got involved as a horse owner when Great Canadian bought Hastings from Woodbine last year.

Both Alexandersrun and Appearance Fee have won two stakes races in a row. Alexandersrun, trained by Tim McCanna, won the Emerald Downs Breeders' Cup Derby in his last start, and Appearance Fee is coming off a better-than-it-looked win in the Richmond Derby Trial.

"I know and appreciate that it's not supposed to happen like this," said Bell. "A lot of people spend their whole life trying to get horses good enough to run in the derby, and in just my second year as an owner I have two in the race."

Bell's dream turned into a bit of a nightmare when they drew for post positions Wednesday afternoon.

"I was just hoping they wouldn't get an outside post and also that they wouldn't start next to each other," he said.

Appearance Fee drew post 11, Alexandersrun post 12.