06/16/2005 11:00PM

Hamel off to good start after move to Hastings


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - After missing the first part of the meet because he was riding in Macao, jockey Richard Hamel got off to a great start in his first weekend at Hastings this year, winning three races including the Brighouse Belles aboard La Belle Fleur.

Hamel has decided to ride full time at Hastings. He had a successful career riding in Alberta, but he wasn't made welcome after the jockeys voted not to ride over a rough track at Stampede Park in Calgary last year.

"I'm not sure why I was singled out," he said. "When we voted not to ride, it was done by writing yes or no on a piece of paper and putting the piece of paper into a hat. We felt it was best to keep our votes confidential. When the stewards came down to the jocks' room and asked who voted not to ride, I told them that we wouldn't be able to tell them. I was the only one that spoke up, and for some reason it was held against me."

Hamel, 36, stayed on and rode the rest of the year, winning 51 races, but he lost a lot of live mounts and said he didn't have the support of the management at either Stampede Park or Northlands.

"You could say I was blackballed," he said.

Coming back to British Columbia is like a homecoming for Hamel. He was born in Terrace, B.C., and began his riding career in the interior of the province, riding the bush tracks in places like Kamloops, Vernon, and Princeton. After two years of riding the bushes, he came to Vancouver as an apprentice in 1989.

"I thought I would do better than I did," he said. "But I soon found out I had a lot to learn. We had a great room at the time - great riders like Sam Krasner, Chris Loseth, Mark Walker, Alan Cuthbertson, and Brian Johnson. I didn't get many chances to ride, but it was a great education."

After losing his bug, Hamel found it difficult to get live mounts in Vancouver.

"I just didn't have the support that's needed to be successful, and it was tough to break in with so many great riders here," he said. "So I figured it was time to try somewhere else."

Hamel went to Alberta in 1997, and it turned out to be a good decision. He had his best year in 2001 when he was the leading rider at Stampede Park, and he has compiled solid career numbers, with 740 races won and close to $8 million in purses.

"Things really worked out for me there," he said. "I also got to ride a lot of stakes horses, and really, you learn a lot more about riding when you're on good horses. Of course, the best one I rode was Fancy As. I won eight of nine on him, and really we should have won the Manitoba Derby as well."

Hamel was aboard Fancy As when he won the B.C. Derby and Premiers in 2001 and was named horse of the year in British Columbia.

Hamel has made a timely move in coming back to Hastings. The all-time leading rider, Chris Loseth, recently retired, and Hamel got another break when he picked up Trapper Barroby as his agent. Barroby has been the agent for Pedro Alvarado, a leading rider at Hastings, but they parted ways a couple of weeks ago. Barroby, the son of trainer Harold Barroby, also books mount for leading apprentice Justin Stein.

"Trapper's a great agent," Hamel said, "and I think his dad is going to start winning a lot of races right now."

Hamel didn't exactly light the world on fire in Macao. He won six races in the three months he was there.

"It was probably a mistake to go as a free agent," he said. "But it's tough to get in there, and when they accepted me I thought I would give it a try. If I went back, I would make sure I had a sponsor this time."

While Hamel had a tough time in Macao, he didn't lose any confidence.

"I think that's the big difference in my riding now," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in my ability. I also have a lot of support here, and that makes a huge difference. I'm looking forward to a good meet."

The trainer of La Belle Fleur, Frank Barroby, is certainly a supporter. Hamel also won on another Barroby-trained horse, Diamond Finish.

"I like Richard's riding," Barroby said. "Plus, we both have a lot of confidence in La Belle Fleur, and it showed by the way he rode her."

Hamel also rode La Belle Fleur when she won the Delta Colleen Stakes at odds of more than 30-1 last year. Barroby said she would likely make her next start in the Senate Appointee on July 2.

* Spirit to Spare, who finished second to La Belle Fleur in the Brighouse Belles, could make her next start in Alberta, trainer Tom Longstaff said. He said he might run her back in a sprint here next weekend, but if it doesn't fill, Longstaff will likely ship her to Northlands Park for the 6 1/2-furlong Wild Rose Stakes on July 1.