06/03/2001 11:00PM

Happy Again, a promising 3-year-old at right time


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - There's nothing like a good 3-year-old to get the heart racing. While the Belmont Stakes brings the end of the Triple Crown in the U.S., in this neck of the woods the 3-year-olds are just getting started. Diglett is clearly the leader of the local division but Cecil Peacock is hoping that Happy Again, a horse he recently purchased, will make the move from impressive maiden winner to stakes contender soon.

Happy Again was bred by Russ and Lois Bennett and was trained by Dino Condilenios when he made an auspicious debut in a straight maiden race May 9. After getting bumped off stride and falling back to last, he started to pick off horses on the backstretch but was forced to steady a couple of times as he wove his way through a full field. He finally found some running room late and finished a close second to Captain Des.

Condilenios entered Happy Again for his second start Sunday and soon after the entries closed he was informed that the horse had been sold. Happy Again remained under Condilenios's care until just after the race, when he was transferred to Lance Giesbrecht's barn.

The race was almost a replay of his first. Once again he dropped back to last after he was pinched back at the start. But this time his jockey Felipe Valdez kept him clear of trouble, and when Valdez turned him loose at the top of the stretch he quickly opened up on the rest of the field and cruised home to a two-length victory.

Peacock is familiar with good 3-year-olds; he won the 1997 B.C. Derby with Bobbin for Stars and in 1999 he finished third with the 4-5 favorite, Digital Dan. "Cecil is always looking for a Derby horse," said Giesbrecht. "There's a lot to like about Happy Again. He's a good looking horse and after his first start, which he probably should have won, I gave Cecil a call and he took it from there."

Peacock lives in Calgary, Alberta, and watched Sunday's race from Stampede Park. "That was very encouraging," he said. "You never really know how it's going to turn out but that was an excellent race and hopefully he'll go on from there." Peacock won the Alberta Derby with Digital Dan but he wasn't making any plans for Happy Again. "I'm just happy to have a good 3-year-old. He looks like he has a lot of potential, but let's just leave it at that."

After what happened to Bobbin for Stars it's not surprising that Peacock isn't looking too far ahead. The Derby winner was running in a stakes race as a 4-year-old when he jumped a shadow and crossed his legs on the way down. He landed on his shoulder and had to be put down. "In this business it just takes one awkward step to set you back," Peacock said. "But I'm aware of the risks and I'm willing to take the chance."

Trainer Rob Van Overschot was an interested observer of Happy Again's race. He trains Captain Des, who beat Happy Again the first time they met and then came back to win a $50,000 optional race going 8 1/2 furlongs May 26. "I think we can beat him," said Van Overschot. "We know my horse can go long and granted Happy Again looks like he will, [but] he still has to prove it."

Giesbrecht is looking for a non-winners-of-two going long for Happy Again while Van Overschot will either run Captain Des in an allowance race this Saturday or wait for the Burnaby June 30.

* Gallop boy/track superintendent Drew Levere was all smiles after he worked Mike K five furlongs last Friday. Mike K was the horse of the year in British Columbia in 1999 but he missed all of last year due to an injured suspensory. "I wasn't sure about him after his first couple of works," said Levere, "I think he might have been trying to protect himself. But he was all racehorse Friday. He's back." That's good news for local fans and his trainer Allan Jack.