08/01/2003 11:00PM

Lord Nelson primed for peak effort

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Seven stakes restricted to British Columbia-breds, plus a starter handicap, are offered on Monday's B.C. Cup Day program at Hastings.

More than $400,000 in purses is up for grabs on the biggest day of racing in the province.

Thanks to California taking simulcasts of eight of the 10 races on the card, the handle should be one of the largest at Hastings since the early 1980's when Sweep Six fever was rampant here.

The most important race of the day is the $65,000 B.C. Cup Classic. The 1 1/8-mile feature offers a rematch between last year's upset winner, Vernon Invader, and Lord Nelson, who finished second as the odds-on favorite after winning the race in 2001.

The way Lord Nelson has trained since winning the Grade 3 Lieutenant Governors' Breeders' Cup on July 1 suggests that there will be no upset this time. Lord Nelson worked a sensational five furlongs in 58.20 seconds July 28 and according to his trainer, Dino Condilenios, the 6-year-old gelding couldn't be doing much better.

"Right now he's as good as he's ever been," said Condilenios. "His feet are perfect and I would be very surprised if he didn't run a huge race."

Lord Nelson, who was bred by his owners Russell and Lois Bennett, has been plagued with quarter cracks throughout his career. Because of his physical problems, Lord Nelson has been lightly raced with just 22 starts. Nine furlongs is clearly his best distance. Lord Nelson has collected five of his 10 career wins and finished second three times in nine starts at 1 1/8 miles. As usual, Frank Fuentes will ride Lord Nelson.

Vernon Invader, trained by Alex Murray, was a shocking winner of the Classic last year, rewarding his backers with a $44.70 mutuel. With just two dull efforts at Assiniboia Downs in 2003, he will be a long price again on Monday. According to Murray, Vernon Invader didn't like the track at Assiniboia and is happy to be back at Hastings.

Leloup will likely be the second betting choice. He was stakes-placed twice at Sunland Park last winter and tuned up for this race with a third-place finish to Commodore Craig in an allowance sprint July 19.