05/07/2003 11:00PM

'Illusive' starts down road to Plate

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Illusive Force and Lord Nelson head their respective fields as Hastings offers a stakes doubleheader Saturday.

Illusive Force and his stablemate Stratoplan figure to be odds-on over four other 3-year-olds in the City of Vancouver Stakes, and Lord Nelson will likely be favored in the George Royal, which drew 10 older horses. Both races are worth $40,000 and are at 6 1/2 furlongs.

The City of Vancouver kicks off the nine-race Hastings card and it is the starting point for 2003 for Illusive Force, who is heading to Woodbine for the $1 million Queen's Plate June 22. Illusive Force won the Jack Diamond Futurity and the Ascot Graduation Breeders' Cup last year and was named champion 2-year-old in British Columbia.

Illusive Force had been training brilliantly until he struggled to keep up to Stratoplan when they worked six furlongs over an off track before the races April 27. But he came back and worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds last Sunday, and his trainer, Robert VanOverschot, is confident going into Saturday's race.

The George Royal drew a star-studded cast, with eight of the 10 horses being stakes winners.

Lord Nelson enjoyed a perfect stalking trip when he won the George Royal in his initial start last year, and with plenty of speed in the field, the race sets up well for him again.

Danzilation, who was named the top sprinter in the province for 2002, closed out his year with three front-running wins, including in the Speed Handicap, and will be tough to catch if he can get to the front from the 10-hole.