05/13/2004 12:00AM

Crystal Gala solid choice, but no lock


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Crystal Gala looks like the one to beat in the eighth race at Hastings, a $50,000 optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs. It's a competitive race with a full field, though, and it would be hard to single Crystal Gala in the pick six, which carries a guaranteed pool of $50,000.

Crystal Gala is a half-sister to Shelby Madison, British Columbia's older filly and mare champion of 2003, and has shown a lot of potential in her four lifetime starts. Crystal Gala beat straight maidens in her second start last season, and in her most recent outing she made a late move to finish a nonthreatening second to Regal Red in the Fair Lady Stakes on May 2.

A homebred filly, Crystal Gala is trained by Toni Jacobson Clouier. Her husband, Mark, is the assistant trainer and exercise rider for both Shelby Madison and Crystal Gala.

"Crystal Gala is the smarter of the two, and she's also a lot easier to gallop," he said. "Shelby really wants the lead, but you can do anything you want with Crystal Gala. Hopefully she'll be as good."

Leading jockey Pedro Alvarado will ride on Saturday.

Literary beat Crystal Gala by 6 1/2 lengths when they met as 2-year-olds last year. That was Crystal Gala's debut race, however, and Literary was coming off a second-place finish to Stole One, who is also entered here.

Literary was made a heavy favorite in her initial start this year, but she tired late to finish second behind Bullseye Bess. Literary has excellent speed but figures to face pressure from Stole One, See Me Through, or Wild Glory, and the shape of the race appears to favor stalkers or closers.