07/24/2009 12:00AM

Emerald runners lacking in Pacific Challenge


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - In an effort to create a regional rivalry between Emerald Downs in Seattle and Hastings here in Vancouver, the Pacific Challenge was created this year. The Challenge consists of three stakes races for older horses bred in Washington or British Columbia: the B.C. Cup Classic, Distaff, and Sprint. The Challenge will be part of B.C. Cup Day, Aug. 3. In total there will be seven stakes, with the other four stakes restricted to B.C.-breds.

Conceptually, the idea of a regional rivalry makes a lot of sense. After all, Emerald is only three hours away from Hastings, and the only real problem getting from one to the other is crossing the border. A good concept turned into a brutal reality Thursday morning when the nominations were released.

From the 33 horses nominated to the three races, just eight are based at Emerald Downs. How many Washington-breds will actually run remains to be seen, and how competitive they will be is another issue.

Five Washington horses have been nominated to the Sprint. The only Emerald-based horse nominated to the 1 1/8-mile Classic is Emancipated. A 4-year-old gelding, Emancipated won the one-mile Trooper Seven Stakes last year but he hasn't won since.

One of the reasons for the low number of Washington horses nominated is that there are other opportunities for horses to run at Emerald. Emancipated was entered in a $20,000 claiming race at Emerald on Friday night. Trainer Robert Baze ultimately elected to scratch Emancipated, and he confirmed on Friday that Emancipated would be coming to Hastings for the Classic.

"One of the reasons is that we can get Frank Fuentes to ride, and I really like him as a rider," Baze said. "Plus, it gives him a little more time between races, and I think he'll do real well going a mile and an eighth."

Kay Cooper, the assistant trainer to Jim Penney, is looking for other races for Big Liberty and Tucannon, who are both nominated for the Sprint. Cooper said if races for them fill at Emerald, they won't be making the trip north.

"We just haven't been able to run them, so if something does fill this weekend, we'll keep them here," she said.

Tim McCanna did sound optimistic about bringing Siberian Cocktail up for the Sprint. A 3-year-old gelding, Siberian Cocktail is coming off of a win in a $40,000 optional race at Emerald on July 11.

"We thought he might need a race, but he ran big last time," McCanna said. "We're probably going to come. It will also be nice to see a lot of my old friends there."

McCanna was concerned about running into Dancing Allstar in the Sprint. According to her trainer, Terry Jordan, Dancing Allstar won't be making the trip from Woodbine - yet.

"She's going to run in a Grade 3 sprint on the turf at Woodbine on the same day," Jordan said. "Win, lose, or draw, she will be coming back to Hastings after the race."

Jordan was referring to the $150,000 Royal North Stakes at Woodbine.

Bill Tollett confirmed that neither of the two horses he nominated to the Challenge will be running. Both Tritium (Sprint) and Judicature (Distaff) will be running at Emerald Downs this weekend instead.

Paul Ryneveld, director of racing at Hastings, was disappointed with the response from horsemen based at Emerald Downs.

"I expected in the first year that it would be light, but I was hoping for a lot better participation from Washington," Ryneveld said. "I would have been ecstatic if we had two horses from Emerald in every race."

Ryneveld said he would be looking at ways to improve the Challenge series and noted that the Sunshine Millions - for California-breds and Florida-breds - also started out slow and has grown since.

"Racing must continue to redefine itself and become relevant once again," Ryneveld said. "That opportunity still exists in Vancouver versus other parts of North America. We have to keep trying new things and build on those that do work."

It will be interesting to see how many Hastings-based horses will show up when Emerald hosts the second half of the series on Sept. 13.

Lack of options for non-B.C.-breds

With the creation of the Pacific Challenge, locally owned non-B.C.-bred stakes horses haven't had a place to run at Hastings since July 1, and the next open stakes on the schedule isn't until Sept. 7, when five stakes races are scheduled.

Hastings's scheduling of multiple stakes races on one day paid off when a huge crowd showed up July 1 for the four stakes headed by the $100,000 Lieutenant Governors. However, with more than two months between races for non-B.C.-breds, many of the local stakes horses have shipped out of town. Some might not come back.

Holy Nova and Lady Raj are entered in the $50,000 Boeing Handicap for fillies and mares at Emerald Downs on Sunday. According to Glen Todd, part-owner of both horses, Holy Nova will probably head to Del Mar after she runs Sunday.

"They have to take a look at what happened this year and make some changes to the stakes schedule," Todd said. "We have horses to run and nowhere to go."