08/04/2004 11:00PM

Futural seeks first win of year

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Futural is obviously not as good as when he was one of the top handicap horses in southern California in 2001, but he still looks like a standout in Saturday's $35,000 optional race at Hastings. The 1 1/16-mile feature also features 32-time winner J V Bennett, who is coming off a win over $25,000 sprinters on July 10.

Futural is winless in three starts this year, but came within a nose of winning a $50,000 optional race at 1 1/16 miles on July 4. Two weeks later, he ran into a very tough Metatron, while finishing fifth in a subsequent allowance race on July 18. Metatron went on to come within a fifth of a second of the track record for 1 1/16 miles, while romping in an allowance race last Monday.

Despite the three defeats this year, Futural has plenty of back class. He won the Sir Winston Churchill Stakes in September and finished a very close third to Roscoe Pito in the Grade 3 Premiers in October. If he runs anything close to those efforts, he will be very tough to beat. He also has strong connections with leading rider Pedro Alvarado accepting the mount from high-percentage trainer Gary Demorest.

J V Bennett has won two of his four starts this year and with apprentice jockey Jorge Espitia taking the call, he gets in very light at 106 pounds. A classy 11-year-old gelding, J V Bennett won his latest start, but didn't seem that interested leaving the starting gate, and jockey Felipe Valdez had to go to work on him early just to keep him in touch with the two other horses in the three-horse field. J V Bennett is trained by Peter Stephen, who has an impressive 43-percent winning percentage at the meet.