10/26/2006 12:00AM

Henson can make season even better

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Trainer Steve Henson is hoping to close out the 2006 Hastings stakes schedule in a big way. He has a strong chance to win the Fantasy Stakes on Saturday with Suva and thinks he has a big shot to win the $100,000-added Ascot Graduation with Long Journey on Sunday.

Henson has had a good year, with 11 wins and 18 seconds from 71 starts, and it could have been a lot better.

"It's been kind of an up and down season, but overall it's been a fantastic year," said Henson. "There's been a lot of good moments and some that haven't been that great. Probably the most exciting thing that happened was when we ran second to Notis Otis with Beau Soleil. Both horses were coming off of long layoffs, and they went head and head the whole way, and neither one gave an inch. Winning the Delta Colleen with What a Blurr was a highlight. Of course, that turned into a downer when she broke down and had to be retired. The one thing I've learned over the years is to not get too high when things are going your way and not to get too down on yourself when they're going the other way."

One of the biggest highlights for Henson this year has been the development of Suva. A 2-year-old filly by Vying Victor, Suva won the CTHS Sales Stakes on Sept. 9, and she probably would have won the Sadie Diamond Futurity if she hadn't lugged in so badly in the stretch. Her jockey, Pedro Alvarado, had to work so hard to keep her straight that he couldn't get down and ride her the way he would have liked. She lost by a head to Chelsey's Image,

Henson said he views the Fantasy not only as a two-horse race between Suva and Chelsey's Image but also as a contest between a couple of good friends. Gary Demorest, who trains Chelsey's Image, has coffee in Henson's tack room every day during the track's renovation break.

"The horses will take care of the first part, but at the sixteenth pole the training will come out," said Henson. "We'll see who the better man is. He out-trained me last time, but I beat him in the Sales Stakes. We've both been prepping for a month."

Henson said he thinks he has corrected Suva's problem of lugging in, and he is confident that Suva will run a straight course in the Fantasy. Interestingly, Demorest had a hand in getting Suva supposedly straightened out.

"Gary fixed it for me," said Henson. "I borrowed a piece of equipment from him, and it will take care of the problem. Not only are we competitors, but we're good friends, too."

According to Demorest, the piece of equipment Henson borrowed is called a burr, which is like a brush that goes on the outside of a horses mouth.

"It's an old piece of equipment that I got from George Cummins," he said. "I used it on Spaghetti Mouse when he won the B.C. Derby last year. He was having a lot of trouble with keeping his head straight, and it seemed to help turn him around."

Suva will certainly be one of the favorites in the Fantasy. On the other hand, Long Journey will probably be a decent price in the Ascot. Long Journey has started four times at Emerald Downs and was recently shipped to Henson after being purchased privately by Jeff Sengara, who also owns Suva.

Long Journey won a $20,000 maiden Sept. 10, and in his latest start he got off to a poor start before closing strongly to finish fourth in a $20,000 starter race Sept. 29.

"I really like him," said Henson. "Since he's been here he's put on a lot of weight, and he worked nicely over the track."

Henson also said he thinks the Ascot isn't as tough a race as the Fantasy.

"Other than Ookashada, the rest of them are just horses," he said. "But I don't know if Ookashada will go long or not. This colt of ours will be okay. When they turn for home he'll come running."

Trainer Harold Barroby won the Fantasy with Ajmaer in 1997. He said he sees a lot of the same characteristics between Ajmaer and her half-sister Africameetsindia, who drew the rail in the Fantasy.

"I don't know how good she is, but like Ajmaer, she tries hard every time," he said. "And I'm pretty sure she'll get the distance."

* Hastings figures to be busier than usual for the simulcast of the Breeders' Cup next Saturday, because for the first time since the inception of the series, the telecast of the Breeders' Cup will not be picked up by a public Canadian television station. ESPN, which is broadcasting the Breeders' Cup for the first time, isn't part of any cable package in Canada.

"We're expecting and preparing for a record crowd this year," said Raj Mutti, director of operations at Hastings.