09/19/2003 12:00AM

Derby pursuit in the genes


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Trainer John Snow and owner K.K. Sangara both grew up around the Hastings racetrack. Snow's father, Mel, has been a trainer since 1956, and Sangara's father, Terry, has owned horses since the early 70's.

Mel and Terry have both come close but have never won the most prestigious race at Hastings, the Grade 2 British Columbia Derby, which will be run Sunday. John and K.K. each appear to have a big chance at taking home the trophy that has eluded their parents.

John Snow will saddle the favorite, Roscoe Pito, and according to the trainer, he's coming up to the race perfectly.

"He's peaking at just the right time," Snow said. "He keeps getting better and better every time he runs."

Roscoe Pito has been impressive when able to dictate the pace, but that's not likely to happen Sunday with Bold Texas and Taiaslew in the field. Snow said he also thinks that one of the Sangara horses will be used as a rabbit.

"I certainly don't have a problem with that," Snow said. "It's a big purse, and if he wants to use one to force the pace, that's fine with me. I think my horse can rate, but he'll fire from any spot. I'll just leave it up to Pedro - he's got the controls."

Snow was referring to leading rider Pedro Alvarado, who will take over for an injured Sam Krasner. Snow recalled the winning ride that Alvarado gave Shacane in last year's 1 3/8-mile Premier's. Shacane was an aggressive horse, and Alvarado did a masterful job of getting him to relax.

"He's a very smart rider," Snow said, "and that's what you need in a race of this stature."

Snow, who works hand in hand with his father, remembers the 1996 derby like it was yesterday. His father saddled Timely Stitch, who came within a nose of winning.

"That was pretty painful," Snow said. "Strawberry Morn was on the lead but tiring and drifting out, and Timely Stitch got through along the rail. Newdigs went around Strawberry Morn, and Timely Stitch never saw him. He probably would have won if he had."

The two Snows share the same shed row and share a lot of the work. Mel is president of the

B.C. and Canadian Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and is often required to attend meetings outside British Columbia.

"When dad's away I help him out, and if I get a chance to get out of town, he takes over for me," Snow said. "It works out pretty good for both of us."

Terry Sangara also had a horse finish second in the derby, but his runner, K D's Knight, never really threatened Pole Position in the 1979 derby.

"Pole Position won pretty easily, and he carried 130 pounds," said K.K. Sangara. "Dad also had Earthquack, who was the favorite in the 1982 derby, but he ran last."

While K.K. is following in his father's footsteps as an owner, he's going about it in a completely different way. Terry was willing to shell out serious money for proven stakes horses from other jurisdictions and bring them to B.C. Back in the 70's, he paid $100,000 to buy Quiet Little Table - who had beaten Forego in the Suburban Handicap - and the owner has also been willing to pay top dollar for well-bred yearlings.

K.K. is active at the yearling sales, but has made his mark in the claiming game. Both of the horses he's running in the derby were claimed out of Southern California. Sangara haltered Royal Place out of a winning race at Del Mar for $62,500 on Aug. 29, and Johnny Ola was a $40,000 claim at Santa Anita in January. Royal Place has raced exclusively on turf this year but was stakes-placed on the main track at Hollywood Park last year. Both runners are trained by Harold Barroby.

"I claimed Royal Place specifically for the B.C. Derby," Sangara said. "But if it doesn't work out, I'll send him back to California and run him on the turf for the same price I claimed him for. So I'm not too worried about how he'll handle the track."

Sangara is not sentimental when it comes to horse racing. It's the gambling that makes it exciting for him.

Last year he won a lot more than he lost. Besides having horses running in British Columbia and California, he also races a string at Woodbine. In 2002 his horses won more than $1 million dollars at Woodbine alone, and $1.5 million overall.

"I haven't done as well in Ontario this year, but I'm still a little bit ahead," Sangara said. "I've had a great year in California, though, so I can't complain."

A win on Sunday would certainly put him over the top in British Columbia.