10/31/2003 12:00AM

For Demorest, a year to remember

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Trainer Gary Demorest is having a remarkable year. He has won with almost 30 percent of his starters and is fourth in the trainer standings with 22 wins.

Last year Demorest won 17 races from 94 starts, and while those are decent numbers, they are far short of the success he has had this year.

"I really haven't done anything different," he said. "Things have just been going right for us. Whenever we go into a slump my assistant, Ned Sams, always tells me not to change anything, it will eventually turn around. And he's right. Things go in cycles and right now we're on a roll."

Trainers who win races at a high percentage usually train for owners who are willing to run horses where they might get claimed. Demorest is no exception.

"I'm very lucky to have owners that let me run their horses where they're competitive," he said. "We've also been lucky by claiming the right type of horses. There always seems to be a race for them to run right back in and that's not always the case with the short supply of horses we have here."

There have been a couple of disappointments for Demorest, however. His two best horses, Diglett and Weepinbell, didn't have the type of season that he expected of them.

Diglett won the George Royal Stakes in May but was subsequently injured and was turned out in July. Weepinbell, who won two races and finished second to Illusive Force in the Ascot Graduation as a 2-year-old, figured to be one of the leaders of the 3-year-old division at Hastings this year.

"He suffered from unsoundness all last winter and this spring," he said. "We tried to play catch-up with him and you just can't do that. We ran him in an allowance race, then rushed him into the Emerald Derby when he really wasn't ready, and it cost us."

Weepinbell appears to be on his game now, though, and Demorest sends him out in the eighth race Sunday. Weepinbell was an easy winner of a $50,000 optional claiming route Oct. 13 and will likely be favored in Sunday's feature, an allowance with a purse of $25,300.

"He's spent a lot of time with the chiropractor and he seems to be responding to the treatment," said Demorest. "He seems to be peaking right now and it's just too bad the meet's almost over."

Demorest isn't sure what he will do with Weepinbell following Sunday's race.

Late season handle encouraging

Last year the management at Hastings was reluctant to have live racing continue past the middle of October. But after horsemen complained about the lack of racing days management consented to stay open until the end of November. Track officials were pleasantly surprised with how well the extended meet went and are also pleased with the results so far this season.

"The ontrack live handle for the past two weeks has been up significantly," said Garth Essery, Hastings vice president. "Last weekend we were up over 20 percent per race from last year and it was up over 15 percent the week before."

Essery isn't sure how the next few weeks will turn out. Hastings has changed its Sunday first post time to 11:53 a.m. for the remainder of the meet and it's hard to predict how the early post will affect the live handle.

Last year, Hastings and Fraser Downs, the harness track in Cloverdale that traditionally controls the late fall and winter racing dates, ran simultaneously. But because of the cost of uplinking both tracks at once, the tracks agreed to run at different times.

"It was just too expensive putting up two signals at the same time," said Essery. "I think we'll be okay. We have a real hard-core group of live fans and, really, if you say noon, it doesn't sound nearly as early."