09/26/2008 12:00AM

Cuthbertson in good form at 61


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - At 61 years of age, jockey Alan Cuthbertson is riding as well as he ever has - if not better than ever. That's saying a lot about the talented journeyman.

Known at Hastings as "Ace," Cuthbertson was the leading rider here in 1972 and is widely regarded as one of the best jockeys to ever ride in British Columbia.

Cuthbertson began his career at Woodbine in 1964 before he moved to Vancouver in 1969. He spent most of his fairly successful career at Hastings, winning 1,281 races. He also ranks sixth on the list of all-time stakes-winning riders here.

For the past three years, Cuthbertson has been the leading rider at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is planning on riding at Hastings until the meet ends on Nov. 2.

There is no telling how much better Cuthbertson's career would have been if he hadn't been suspended numerous times for drug use, most notably cocaine.

"I probably had more than a few chances to be the leading rider here but I never finished the meet," said Cuthbertson.

The last time Cuthbertson rode here was in 2003, and once again he was suspended when he tested positive for cocaine.

Cuthbertson doesn't think about what could have been, though. He is solely focused on his life now and is planning on riding for as long as his body can hold up.

"There is no point in looking back," he said. "Life moves on and I can't change what happened in the past. I am just moving forward. I love riding horses, and right now I am really enjoying my life."

For a lot of people, the company they keep has a lot to do with what direction they take in life. When Cuthbertson moved to Manitoba, he met Bonnie Eshelman. With her support and guidance, Cuthbertson has turned his life around.

"I first met her in the jocks' room at Assiniboia," said Cuthbertson. "She's a bit younger than me, but to see her still riding was very inspiring. I really admired her. She has certainly had a positive influence on me. Being surrounded by a sweet, religious woman has been a very good experience for me."

When Eshelman retired from riding in 2005, she became Cuthbertson's agent.

With a new lifestyle and a much more relaxed attitude, Cuthbertson has been riding like he has a new lease on life. He has dominated the jockey standings at Assiniboia for the past two years: In 2007 he won 106 races, 54 more than the second-leading rider, Kirk Johnson. Cuthbertson's goal this year was to win more races than in 2007. He reached his goal with 107 wins and again was well clear of the second-leading rider, Rohan Singh, who won 63 races.

"I am really enjoying Winnipeg," he said. "It's a nice place, and it is a lot easier to ride there than it is here. There you have plenty of time to make decisions. Here you have to send to the first corner, grab a position, and hope you don't get carried wide. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome here."

Despite his concerns about riding at Hastings, Cuthbertson didn't have any trouble handling the smaller track when he was a regular rider here.

"You get used to it," he said. "I have to say, though, it amazes me how small it really is."

It seems growing older and wiser has had a lot to do with Cuthbertson's resurgence as a top rider.

"At my age, the game is a lot more fun than it used to be," said Cuthbertson. "I've really lightened up my attitude and I just don't take things as seriously as I used to."

Cuthbertson is very proud of the fact that at 61 he is still riding the card every day, and also that he won the Manitoba Derby this year aboard Matt's Broken Vow. For the past two years, Cuthbertson rode at Woodbine after the Assiniboia meet ended. One of the reasons he chose Hastings this year is the hope that he will be able to ride a lot more horses.

"Everything at Woodbine is about youth, so it was very hard for me to get many mounts," he said. "Even the management there is focused on youth. I don't like sitting around the jocks' room to ride just one or two horses a day, and it was pretty boring for me. I have a lot of old friends at Hastings, and hopefully they will be willing to give me a chance. This weekend is pretty slow, but things should pick up."

It is truly amazing to see how healthy Cuthbertson looks compared to when he was riding here in the past. There is also a peaceful demeanor about him, and he seems to have made a nice life for himself in Manitoba.

"I don't do anything special to stay fit," said Cuthbertson. "I just try and keep active. Things are working out nicely for me now. Bonnie has a nice farm that I live on, and as long as I'm feeling good, I intend to keep riding."

Cuthbertson isn't the oldest active jockey; at 71, Frankie Amonte Sr. holds that distinction. He is, however, the only jockey over 60 to win a riding title at a full meet. He also gives every impression that he will be the leading rider in Winnipeg for quite a few more years.