04/12/2006 12:00AM

Lawsuit delaying slots installation

Lord Nelson, 9, will be back racing Friday evening in the George Royal.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It has been said that patience is a virtue, but when it comes to the situation at Hastings regarding slot machines, which were approved by the Vancouver City Council in 2004, patience is a necessity.

When the live season ended last November, management at Hastings was expecting that construction to make room for the slots would be under way in early 2006. The new design for the building was prominently displayed in the lobby, and both Hastings and members of the British Columbia racing industry were excited that slot revenue would help move the industry forward.

Well, it is mid-April, and as anyone here can plainly see, there is still no sign of the slots. It appears that until a lawsuit that was filed against the city of Vancouver by a local citizens group, the Hastings Conservancy, is settled, not much is going to happen regarding the slots.

Some city officials think the lawsuit is a frivolous claim of foul, but, nonetheless, they are treating it very seriously. The Hastings Conservancy claims that the city rushed the application through and then didn't follow its own guidelines when it approved the slots.

"It's kind of ironic, because I can't think of any other application that we spent more time on," said Brent McGregor, the deputy city manager. "We're confident we did everything right, and we're expecting a positive decision."

Hastings also has not finalized the lease and operating agreement for the facility from the city. Considering that many of the issues are likely contingent on slots, it is not surprising that the final document has not been signed.

"There really isn't anything standing in the way of an agreement," said McGregor. "Lawyers are making sure everything is correct, but that's about it."

There is certainly a different feel going into the live racing season in 2006 than in the last couple of years. While there were substantial purse increases in both 2004 and 2005, there will actually be less purse money available this season.

Part of the purse increases came from a $1.5 million interest-free loan to the purse pool from Great Canadian Casino, which owns and operates Hastings. It was hoped that by now slot revenue would be coming in and that the loan would be paid off and there would be further purse increases.

In an agreement with the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Hastings opted to cut back the number of racing days instead of cutting purses.

Chuck Keeling, vice president of the racing division of Great Canadian, is taking a cautious approach to the 2006 season.

"We have seen great growth in the past couple of years, but until all of this is resolved, our goal is to try and hold our gains," he said.

If the court case is resolved favorably, Keeling's recommendation is that Great Canadian move quickly to put in the slots.

"It won't be easy to install them during the live season," he said. "But I've been through it before at Fraser Downs, and it can be done."

On a positive note, the first local teletheatre center opened a few weeks ago at River Rock Casino in Richmond.

"It's too early to tell, but I think there is some new money there," said Keeling.

No horse shortage

With the anticipation of slot revenue for purses, local owners have been busy purchasing horses over the past couple of years. The annual ritual of stall-wars was livelier than usual this spring, and clearly there are more horses on the grounds than in the recent past.

With the exception of Pretty Meadow, all of last year's local champions are back in training at Hastings, including the $646,009 earner and multiple stakes winner Lord Nelson, who will make his 2006 debut in the George Royal on Friday.

A couple of weeks ago the classy 9-year-old Lord Nelson gave his trainer, Dino Condilenios, a real scare.

"He hit the outside wall and then stumbled and fell," said Condilenios. "I thought he broke down, because when he fell he started stumbling around trying to get back up. My guess is that his exercise rider had choked him down too much and that he ran out of air. I had him thoroughly checked out, and he seems to be fine. He came back with an excellent work."

Rider back after long layoff

Jockey Mark Walker will ride Sindi's Success in the first race Friday, and it will be his first mount since 2000. Physical problems were the main reason he has been away since then.

"Right now I feel great, and I'm just thrilled to be back riding," Walker said.

According to Daily Racing Form statistics, Walker, 49, has won 1,845 races in his career.