04/19/2012 2:05PM

Hastings: Almost Time shows new dimension


VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Going into the first turn of the $50,000 George Royal Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at Hastings last Sunday, trainer Dino Condilenios was confident Almost Time was going to win the six-furlong sprint. Usually a deep closer, Almost Time broke alertly under Frank Fuentes and was sitting just off the pace set by favored Winning Machine and Don’twaitforme. Horses who come from well off the pace don’t always have the same kick when they are asked to stay close early. That wasn’t the case with Almost Time.

“I was very surprised to see him so close, because it hasn’t been his style the past couple of years,” said Condilenios. “But they weren’t going that fast, and I was pretty sure he was going to run them down. He had been training super all spring, and he was very sharp going into the race. He did have speed when he was younger, so maybe it wasn’t that shocking to see him stalking early. It was a great ride by Frank.”

It was the 10th win in 24 starts for Almost Time, and the $30,000 he earned brought his career earnings to $373,437. A 6-year-old gelding, Almost Time has been considered a late-running sprinter most of his career. He was named the champion sprinter in British Columbia and top older B.C.-bred in 2010. Last year, proving he was much more than just a sprinter, he was voted the B.C-bred Horse of the Year based on his win in the 1 1/8-mile B.C. Cup Classic.

Because of the horse’s versatility, Condilenios has plenty of options with Almost Time. The next stakes for older horses at Hastings is the John Longden 6000 on May 6. Condilenios also trains Crew Leader, who finished a disappointing ninth in the George Royal.

“I actually liked Crew Leader a bit more coming into the George Royal because he has more tactical speed,” said Condilenios. “We scoped him and he had a bit of mucus, so we’ll regroup. I’ll probably run Almost Time in the Longden, and we’ll just have to see with Crew Leader. I would like to keep them apart if possible.”

The George Royal was an odd race in that it was a sprint but there wasn’t any real confirmed speed in the field. Both Winning Machine and Don’twaitforme have done their best running from a stalking position. They both broke sharply and ended up battling for the lead. They went pretty slow the first quarter, 23.49 seconds, but really picked it up going down the backstretch, posting a 45.80 half-mile time. Winning Machine started to edge clear coming into the stretch but tired late to finish fourth. Winning Machine’s trainer, Frank Lucarelli, thinks the shape of the race worked against him.

“I really didn’t want him on the lead,” said Lucarelli. “And I certainly wasn’t expecting him to duel with Don’twaitforme. That second quarter really cost him.”

According to Lucarelli, Winning Machine came out of the race in good shape and would likely make his next start at his home track, Emerald Downs, in the $50,000 Governors on May 20.

“He’s still at Hastings and so far everything looks good.”

According to trainer Rob VanOverschot, Don’twaitforme hurt himself in the race and is done for the year.

“You can see him stumble when he crosses over the marks made by the starting gate,” said VanOverschot.

Happy return

There was a collective sigh of relief from trainer Greg Tracy and Norm Castiglione following Claremiezie’s easy 6 1/2-length win in an allowance race for 3-year-old fillies Sunday. Castiglione is a member Riversedge Racing Stable Ltd., the owners of Claresmieze. She was making her first start since she injured herself in the $100,000 Sorority at Monmouth last September. She won the Lassie at Hastings by 8 1/4 lengths and the Princess Margaret at Northlands by more than 15 lengths before shipping to Monmouth. Claresmieze spent most of the winter at Golden Gate Fields while preparing for her return.

“It was more a relief than anything,” said Castiglione.

Tracy said she came out of the race in perfect shape and would be pointed for the $50,000 Ross McLeod May 19.

“After that we’ll try to stretch her out,” said Tracy. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, because we went pretty easy on her this winter, and she doesn’t seem to like synthetic tracks. It was nice to see her run so well.”

Impressive handle

Management at Hastings was ecstatic with the 40-percent increase in the live mutuel handle opening weekend compared to last year.

“We were very pleased,” said Hastings general manager, Raj Mutti. “We had large crowds both days, and it was encouraging to see such a younger demographic turning out. Our ontrack live handle was up by 18 percent. and it was a great way to start the season.”

Total handle for the two days was $1,059,018, compared with $754,769 last year.