06/08/2006 11:00PM

Lord Nelson running out of chances

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - From May 21, 2001, through June 4, 2005, Lord Nelson started 24 times at Hastings. He won 13 races, finished second nine times, and third twice. All 24 of the races were stakes.

For that period of time, he was the horse to beat every time he stepped on the track. He was named the top handicap horse in the province four years in a row, and in 2004 he was honored as the local horse of the year.

Lately, though, Lord Nelson hasn't performed up to his usual standards. Beginning with the Sir Winston Churchill, last Sept. 24, Lord Nelson has finished off the board in four straight races. The poor showing in the Churchill can easily be explained by the fact that it was his first race since he won the John Longden 6000 in June and he was being pointed to the Premiers. But he also ran a very dull race in the Premiers, finishing fourth, 9 1/2 lengths behind Bull Ranch.

Lord Nelson, who is owned by his breeders, Russell and Lois Bennett, hasn't picked up the bit in two starts this year, finishing fifth in both the George Royal and the Longden.

His trainer, Dino Condilenios, is hoping for a good effort by Lord Nelson in an allowance race Sunday. If that isn't the case, retiring the classy 9-year-old is a possibility, according to Condilenios.

"I'm not going to let him continue running poorly and tarnish his outstanding record," said Condilenios. "And the owners and I both agree that he'll never run for a tag."

Condilenios is somewhat perplexed by Lord Nelson's poor races this year. The chronic quarter cracks that have bothered Lord Nelson on and off throughout his career seem to be fine, and Condilenios can't find any obvious reason for Lord Nelson's dull start.

"He's as sound as he's ever been, and he's trained really well," he said. "He's a happy horse and he's not sour at all. It's possible that as a 9-year-old he's just lost interest, but he doesn't show that when he's training."

The track was wet in both of Lord Nelson's starts this year, and according to his jockey, Frank Fuentes, Lord Nelson didn't seem to be handling the footing as well as he has in the past.

"It's possible the wet tracks had something to do with his dull races," said Condilenios, "but he's run well on off tracks in the past, so I don't want to use that as an excuse."

Although Condilenios won't blame the track surface for Lord Nelson's poor performances, he did say that he would scratch him if it came up wet Sunday.

"I just need to know where he is right now, and I don't want to have any excuses," he said. "He drew the rail, so the plan is to send him out of there. He's certainly quick enough to make the lead and if he's still interested in running, he should run a good race. Actually, I was hoping the race would come up a bit easier, but if he's on his game he should be able to run with them."

Condilenios was referring to the allowance entrants Bull Ranch and Spaghetti Mouse, who are prepping for the Grade 3, $125,000 Lieutenant Governors on July 1.

Although Lord Nelson's career is winding down, Condilenios has a number of young horses in his barn that he thinks are potential stakes horses.

His main clients, Swift Thoroughbreds, are active in yearling sales. They also recently bought a couple of 3-year-olds and a 4-year-old who should fit in nicely at Hastings.

Scots Pine will likely be the first to start for his new owners. He's nominated to the Alberta Derby, but Condilenios isn't sure he will run there.

"They arrived Thursday night, so I'll see how they all adjust to their new surroundings before making any plans," he said.

Scots Pine is eligible for an entry-level allowance race. He's coming off a race in which he was eased in his first try on grass at Belmont. Nevertheless, judging from his races on dirt, he figures to be a stakes horse here. He finished just four lengths behind his stablemate Jazil in a maiden race on the main track at Aqueduct in December, and he won a maiden special weight race on the inner course in February.

The Visualizer sold for $1 million at the Keeneland September sale in 2004 and was sent to Great Britain, where he won a maiden race as a 2-year-old. He hasn't raced this year, but he's been training at Belmont and worked five furlongs on May 27.

Woodford Gale, a 4-year-old, has only started three times, and in his latest he finished second in an entry-level allowance race at Keeneland on April 8.

"They're Darley and Godolphin horses, and since they aren't good enough to be Grade 1 horses, they don't want them," said Condilenios. "On the other hand, we're happy to have them."

* Tom Longstaff was fined $2,500 when a horse he trains, Yak Attack, came back with a positive test for clenbuterol. For Longstaff, it was the first time in 40 years of training that he's had a positive test.

"Actually, it was the first fine of any kind I've ever had," said Longstaff.