06/23/2001 12:00AM

Hap sweeps to victory


SALEM, N.H. - There were no surprises in Saturday's Grade 2 $200,000 New Hampshire Sweepstakes Handicap at Rockingham Park. Hap, the 1-5 favorite, swept past his rivals on the final turn and drew out through the stretch for a seven-length score. Gander, the 5-2 second choice, finished second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of 13-1 third choice Flash of Joy.

Hap, the 123-pound topweight in the about 1 1/8-mile turf race didn't break sharply but that didn't concern jockey John Velazquez, who kept 5-year-old Hap tucked in along the hedge near the rear of the seven-horse field. As a pair of longshots and Gander contested the early pace, Velazquez asked Hap for run nearing the end of the backstretch and he responded readily, erasing the four-length advantage of the dueling leaders. Velazquez steered Hap out four wide midway on the bend while in full stride and after he swept clear at the top of the stretch, he increased his advantage under a hand ride. The final time of 1:46.32 was over a second off the course and stakes record.

"He ran the way I expected," Velazquez said. "He broke okay, but not as well as I expected. But I didn't panic. I've watched so many of his races and I know he's a horse who doesn't get into the race early, so I rode him with confidence. I just shook the whip at him, I never hit him with it, and he took off and then opened up. He's a really good horse."

Hap has now won both his starts this year for trainer Bill Mott. Owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust and E.L. White, he earned a winner's share of $120,000 and returned $2.60. The perfecta paid $4.20 and the trifecta $11.20.

The Sweeps was Hap's eighth win in 13 career starts. His lifetime earnings are just more than $600,000.