11/06/2003 1:00AM

Futural drops back to a sprint


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - A graded stakes winner of $750,000, Futural certainly is the class of the field in a $25,000 optional-claiming sprint at Hastings on Saturday. What is not so certain is how Futural will adjust to racing 6 1/2 furlongs, a distance much shorter than usual for him.

Futural has never won going 6 1/2 furlongs and is coming off of a third-place finish in the 1 3/8-mile Premier's Oct. 12. The last time he ran in a sprint he finished fourth in an allowance race July 19.

This seems like an odd spot for him following his good effort in the Premier's, especially since he's eligible to be claimed for $25,000. But his owner, Kim Hart, has more wins at the meet than any other owner, and he usually likes to run them where they're competitive. Futural is trained by Marilee Lenz.

Futural will be facing a solid group of proven sprinters, including Buckeye Bates, who has won 10 of his 16 starts at the distance and is 3 for 5 this year. Buckeye Bates has been off since Sept. 7, but he runs well fresh and any horse who is 11 for 17 lifetime has to be taken seriously. He's trained by Frank Barroby and will be ridden by leading rider Pedro Alvarado.

Another sharp horse in the race is Bates. A 5-year-old gelding, Bates has won his last three starts and should be involved right from the start.

Supremo's Suprize would benefit the most if Buckeye Bates and Bates hook up early and get carried away up front. He was an easy winner the last time he faced Buckeye Bates sprinting.