04/24/2003 12:00AM

Few ready to run as season opens


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Live racing begins Saturday at Hastings Park, and an excellent field of older sprinters headlines the eight-race card.

Because of a horse shortage in the province, Hastings will race only on weekends and holidays this year. The plan is to run at least 12 races a day, but because of an extremely wet spring with only one track labeled fast since the clockers started timing workouts on March 9, many horses just aren't ready to run.

"It's a bit disappointing, but there's not much we can do about the weather," said Debbie Peebles, director of racing. "Hopefully, it will improve and we can get back to running full cards."

The schedule calls for 69 live racing days, ending on Nov. 30. The most important race at the meet, the British Columbia Derby, is scheduled for Sept. 21 and the $250,000 purse is the largest ever offered in the province. B.C. Cup Day is scheduled for Aug. 4.

First post time is 1:23 p.m. Pacific, with a special post time of 12:30 p.m. set for Kentucky Derby Day, May 3.

The opening day feature is a good one, with Commodore Craig the probable favorite in a six-furlong optional claimer that drew seven horses.

Commodore Craig started off last year with a front-running win in the City of Vancouver Stakes, and followed that up with a second to the crack sprinter Salt Grinder in the Klondike. A homebred son of Vying Victor, Commodore Craig has never been worse than second while sprinting, and just hasn't been able to carry his speed to a middle distance.

His best race going around three turns was a third-place finish to B.C. Premiers winner Shacane in the Jim Coleman Province last July. He was turned out after a poor effort in the B.C. Stallion Stakes on Aug. 5, and has been working sharply for his return. In his final prep, he earned a bullet for his six-furlong move April 22.

"We stopped him mid-season because his check ligaments were bothering him and they weren't really responding to treatment," said his trainer, Robbie Anderson. "So far he's been fine this year and I'm very happy with the way he's been training."

Anderson hasn't committed himself to the idea that Commodore Craig is just a sprinter. "He's a much more mature horse this year, and if stays sound we will give him a try going a middle distance."

Kat Dancer, Colondelivery, and Bold'n Keen look like his main opposition.