09/26/2002 11:00PM

Hart digs deep for marquee talent

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Kim Hart is back and that's good news for Hastings Park racing fans. As well as spending serious money for locally bred yearlings, in the past Hart has claimed high priced horses in California and brought them up to Hastings to compete in the major stakes races. His most notable purchase was Wandering, who Hart claimed for $62,500 at Hollywood Park and then shipped him up to win the 1999 British Columbia Derby.

After a dispute with the Pacific Racing Association last year, Hart took all of his horses out of Hastings Park and raced them in California and Washington. With new management in place and the local industry headed in a new direction, Hart has decided to get involved locally again. He jumped in big time when he claimed two horses for $80,000 each on the same day at Hollywood Park June 6. One of the horses he claimed, Catz, an Irish-bred mare, is one of the 18 fillies and mares nominated to next Sunday's $175,000 Ballerina Breeders' Cup. The other horse is Futural, who runs this Sunday in the Sir Winston Churchill.

Futural was one of the best horses in North America last year, and his $478,670 in earnings would have been considerably higher if he hadn't been disqualified from first to third in the $750,000, Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. His most important victories were in Grade 2 races, the Mervin LeRoy and San Bernadino. He started out the 2002 season with a good third to Reba's Gold and Sky Jack in a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita, and was the actual favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, where he finished 12th, beaten more than 20 lengths. After two even races against optional claiming and allowance company, Futural surfaced in a $80,000 claiming race where Hart haltered him. Futural has raced three times under Hart's colors. He never threatened in two stakes in Northern California, and in his most recent start he finished eighth in the Longacres Mile.

Futural is obviously not the same horse he was last year, and going from the favorite in the Santa Anita Handicap to running for an $80,000 tag in just three months is a pretty good sign that all is not well. However, if he's anything close to his former self, he should be a factor running against much lesser competition at Hastings Park.

"I'm hoping he can be a star up here for the next few years," said Hart. "He really handles the bullring well and while he might be in a bit of a slump, he knows what it takes to win races."

Hart's goal is to bring horses with star quality to Hastings to help boost the live attendance. "What got me going in horse racing was coming out to Hastings and seeing horses like Delta Colleen run," he said. "You could count on a packed house when she ran, and hopefully we can recreate that type of magic. I know we need to simulcast and have to sell our signal, but this place was built on live racing, and maybe we can get the fans back with horses like Futural."

If Futural runs well Sunday he will make his next start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Premier's Oct. 20, where he would meet B.C. Derby winner Cruising Kat. "He came out of the derby in great shape," said Crusising Kat's trainer and part-owner Daryl Snow. "He was a handful the next day and he's been jogging for the last few days. He should love the extra distance of the Premier's."

Second- and third-place finishers, Blowin in the Wind and Silver Donn, have both been turned out for the year. Shacane ran a big race from to finish fourth from the 12 hole in the derby and will be pointed for the Premier's, reported his trainer Toni Cloutier.