08/26/2004 12:00AM

J V Bennett still tough at age 11


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - J V Bennett, who has an incredible record of 33 wins from 96 starts, will likely be favored in the feature race at Hastings on Saturday, a $35,000 optional race at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds and up.

J V Bennett turned 11 this year, but his age hasn't slowed him down. He has won three of five starts this year, including a victory at this level and distance Aug. 7. He created some of his own luck in the race, coming over soon after the break and forcing heavily favored Futural to check, clip heels, and almost go down.

J V Bennett was passed by Futural on the stretch turn, but rallied to prevail by three-quarters of a length. In a controversial decision, the stewards ruled that the incident didn't affect the outcome and allowed the result to stand.

J V Bennett has done most of his racing at Hastings, but he began his career at Turf Paradise in 1995. He is trained by Peter Stephen and will be ridden by leading apprentice Jorge Espitia.

Strategy will play a prominent role in the outcome of the race. Slew's Carousel has the best speed in the field but has never successfully carried it 1 1/16 miles.

Leading rider Pedro Alvarado will try to steal the race aboard Slew's Carousel. Espitia and Justin Stein, who began his riding career last weekend and rides Orchid's Spirit, will have to decide if they want to pressure Slew's Carousel or hope that he backs up. A speed duel would help Native Judge.