06/20/2003 12:00AM

Illusive Force chases a first

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Trainer Rob VanOverschot will try to accomplish something no trainer in British Columbia has ever done when he saddles Illusive Force in the

$1 million Queen's Plate this Sunday. If he's successful, Illusive Force would become the first British Columbia-bred horse to win the Plate.

It's a daunting task. Three-year-olds at Hastings are typically pointed toward the B.C. Derby, which usually runs in September, and at this point in the season, most of them haven't even gone beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.

VanOverschot knew that he was behind the 8-ball training Illusive Force at Hastings, and that if he were going to have Illusive Force ready to go 1 1/4 miles Sunday, he would need to send him east.

Illusive Force finished fourth in both the Marine Stakes and Victoria Park at Woodbine, and although his Beyer Figure regressed in the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park, he showed more determination down the lane. According to VanOverschot, Illusive Force is coming up to the Plate in excellent condition.

"He really needed that last race, and we like the way he came back and worked a mile last Monday," VanOverschot said. "We weren't looking for a fast work, just trying to get some more air into him. He galloped out strong, so I think we accomplished what we were aiming for."

In both of his races at Woodbine, Illusive Force drew an inside post, and his jockey, David Wilson, didn't have many options. Illusive Force broke sharply both times and ended up battling for the early lead. VanOverschot was pleased to draw an outside post for the Plate and doesn't expect Illusive Force to be on the lead Sunday.

"He has enough natural speed so he should be able to get a good spot before they hit the first turn," the trainer said. "He also relaxes a lot better when he's outside horses, so I think it's just a matter of if he's good enough or not."

VanOverschot has spent the last month and a half overseeing his sizable stable at Hastings and has left Illusive Force's Plate preparations in the hands of his wife, Lani.

"I couldn't have done it without her," he said. "She knows him inside out, and it's nice to be able to completely trust someone with the horse when he's so far away."

On the Hastings backstretch, there are differences of opinion about how Illusive Force will do.

Perennial leading trainer Harold Barroby sent out Pampas Host in the 1975 Breeders' Stakes, the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, and he finished second by a nose. Barroby isn't sure if Illusive Force is the type of horse who will get 1 1/4 miles.

"Pampas Host was a come-from-behind type, and I'm just not sure if Illusive Force will be able to carry his speed that far," Barroby said. "Plus the breeding program in Ontario is geared toward getting a horse to go that far, while out West, we're looking for more speed-oriented horses that can go a middle distance."

Former rider and now trainer Tak Inouye won the 1965 Queen's Plate aboard Whistling Sea, and he views it differently.

"Whistling Sea was pure speed," he said, "so I don't see why Illusive Force won't go that far."

Hastings President Phil Heard heads a contingent of track management going out for the race, and he said they'll be waving the B.C. flag proudly.

"I think it's great to have a horse from B.C. in the race," he said. "It really brings attention to not only our racing program but also the breeding industry out here."

Trainer Dennis Terry captured the general feeling of a Westerner's perspective about the race.

"It's like our Kentucky Derby," he said. "It's the most important race for 3-year-olds in Canada, and I always watch it. And like the Derby, about half of the field doesn't really belong in the race. I think Rob's horse belongs, and while I don't know if he can win, he should give a good account of himself and he could easily hit the board. I'll be cheering for him."