11/06/2003 12:00AM

Cuthbertson better than ever

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Right now, there's nobody riding better at Hastings than Alan Cuthbertson. He won four races last Sunday, and, coming into this weekend, has won 20 races from 100 starts at the meet. Those are pretty amazing numbers for someone who is 56 and hadn't ridden for almost two years.

Cuthbertson has always had the talent. He has 1,852 wins and over $8 million in earnings in his career. He was the leading rider at Hastings in 1972 and has won most of the important races in British Columbia, including the B.C. Derby twice, with Decidedly D in 1972 and Bucksaw and 1977.

He could have done a lot better, though. Cuthbertson has had problems with drugs and alcohol and has been suspended on more than one occasion. The reason he had been away for almost two years was that he refused to supply a urine test at Portland Meadows in early 2002. It wasn't easy getting reinstated, but he's back on track now and hoping to close out his career on a positive note.

"I've had my problems in the past," said Cuthbertson. "But right now things are going well and I would like to ride for maybe five or more six years."

Cuthbertson lives in Westbank, B.C., with his wife, Donna, who is a former racing office employee, and their two boys. It's about a five-hour drive to the track so the two-day racing week at Hastings works out pretty nicely for him.

"It would be nice to have more racing days, but this way I get to spend a lot more time with my family, so I'm not complaining," he said. "My legs aren't as flexible as they once were, but I'm as fit as I've ever been so it's not so bad having the time off during the week."

Two of Cuthbertson's recent wins were aboard Karabez, a $4,000 claimer trained by Harold Barroby. Cuthbertson's first win with Karabez was as good a ride as you will see anywhere. Going into the first turn Cuthbertson had to decide between taking back and possibly going wide, or putting himself into a bit of tight spot along the rail in order to save ground. He opted for the rail. That decision probably won him the race and his backers were rewarded with a $13.10 mutuel.

"He's always been a great rider," said Barroby. "He's really smart and is always studying the Racing Form. He asked me about how I wanted him to ride one of my horses the other day and I told him he probably knew more about it than I do. I know he's had to fight weight throughout his career, but I really believe that if he would have had his priorities right he could have made it riding with the best riders in Southern California."

Barroby has named Cuthbertson on Irish Eh in the feature race Saturday.

Cuthbertson, who is nicknamed "Ace," is not averse to giving Woodbine a try in the future.

"I'm pretty happy with the way it's going here right now, but you never know how things are going to work out," he said. "I have some good friends in Ontario, like Mike Wright, and who knows? I know it's tough to break into a new place, but I have my weight under control and I still think I can ride with the best of them."

Valdez third in jockey standings

Jockey Felipe Valdez is having another solid year. He is third in the jockey standings but leads the way in stakes wins with 10. Last year, Valdez left before the meet ended to ride at Sam Houston, where he had some success. This year, he plans to finish out the meet before going back to Houston.

"Last year, Hastings wasn't planning to run as late but they extended the meet and I was already committed to go to Houston," said Valdez. "I was happy with how things went down there last year and hopefully I can build on it this season. I'll be back next spring, though."