07/24/2002 12:00AM

Crystallo always in it


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Crystallo could be a slight favorite over seven well-matched older horses going 1 1/16 miles in the Hastings Park feature race on Friday evening. Crystallo is dropping a notch after finishing a close fourth to former stakes winner Vernon Invader, while Happy Again and Titan Steel are both stepping up in class after sharp wins.

Crystallo hasn't won a race this season, but he has been in the thick of it in all of his races. The last time he ran for today's price, $20,000, he finished a close second to a very tough J V Bennett. There should be an honest enough pace to set up his late charge, and he is well-connected, as leading trainer Jim Brown will give a leg up to leading rider Pedro Alvarado.

Although Crystallo is dropping in class, this isn't an easy spot, as just about any of the horses entered appear to have a legitimate shot.

Titan Steel will receive a lot of support off of his impressive win over $15,000 sprinters July 14. He paid a handsome mutuel, $21.70, but the price wasn't an overlay, as Titan Steel had been unplaced in his three previous starts. He won't be as generous a price if he wins here, as he is stretching out to his best distance, where he has won three times out of five starts. He is trained by Mel Snow and will be ridden by Robert May.

Happy Again is taking a big step up after beating $15,000 nonwinners-of-two sprinters July 12. A son of Maudlin, Happy Again has never gone this far, but he is certainly bred for the distance, and many of Maudlin's progeny seem to improve as they get older. It's not clear how fast the pace will be, but Happy Again will likely be the one setting it.

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