08/07/2003 12:00AM

Lord Nelson running strong as ever


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - At 6 years old, Lord Nelson appears to be better than ever. At least that was the assessment of his usual rider, Frank Fuentes, following his emphatic win in the British Columbia Cup Classic on Monday.

Lord Nelson lost his first two starts this year. But he wore bar shoes in those races, and Fuentes thinks the switch to regular shoes for the B.C. Cup Classic was of benefit to Lord Nelson.

"I don't know if it's that he's just that much more comfortable running with normal shoes instead of the bar shoes that he's used in the past, but he actually seems like a better horse now than he was last year at 5," said Fuentes. "He really struggled over the track in his first two starts this year, but ever since Dino changed his shoes, he's just been awesome."

Dino Condilenios, Lord Nelson's trainer, isn't sure where Lord Nelson will run after the Classic, but the Longacres Mile on Aug. 24 at Emerald Downs is a consideration. Last year Lord Nelson ran the worst race of his career in the Mile, finishing seventh, but he was coming off of a defeat in the Classic and, according to Condilenios, his chronic quarter cracks flared up just before the race.

"We're only going if he's absolutely a hundred percent," said Condilenios. "Last year we went down there early to get him used to his surroundings, and unfortunately he just wasn't at the top of his game. He wasn't lame or anything like that, but his feet were bothering him a little, and it really showed when he ran."

If all goes well, this time Condilenios will ship Lord Nelson "on top of the race" because "he's been there once before and will know what's going on."

While the money of the Longacres Mile, $250,000 added, isn't something to sneeze at, for Condilenios, the prestige of winning the Mile would be more important.

"He really doesn't have anything more to prove around here," he said. "I think he rates as one of the top 10 B.C.-breds ever. But if he's going to be considered in the same light as horses like Travelling Victor, Kid Katabatic, and Mike K, he probably needs to run a good race in the Mile. After all, it is the most important race in the Northwest."

Dancewithavixen staying put

Another horse with nothing to prove at Hastings is Dancewithavixen. She has dominated the 3-year-old filly division at Hastings and her win in the fillies division of the Stallion Stakes, while carrying 124 pounds, was done quite easily. Her performance certainly impressed rider Felipe Valdez.

"That was a tremendous race," he said. "She's the best horse I've ever ridden."

Dancewithavixen's owner and trainer, Tom Longstaff, plans to keep her at Hastings for the rest of the season. One reason for that is avoid facing Youcan'ttakeme - whom Longstaff calls "a monster" - at least at that filly's home track of Emerald.

Longstaff plans to nominate Dancewithavixen to the Free Vacation, Sept. 1. He will decide whether to run her when the weights come out. Following that, he is looking at either the $150,000 Breeders' Cup Oaks on Sept. 20 or possibly the $250,000 British Columbia Derby the next day.

"Unless something comes from out of town, I think she would have a big shot in the derby," he said. "She carried five more pounds than Roscoe Pito did in the colts division of the Stallion Stakes, and she ran faster. She's pretty special, and I don't see why she can't beat the boys, especially since she'll get a break in the weights."

Longstaff's only worry about skipping the Free Vacation is that Dancewithavixen is so energetic it is hard to keep her grounded when she's not doing something.

"Look at her," he said. "I had to walk her with a lip-chain on Wednesday, and you can see that she's just full of herself. She doesn't miss an oat, and it doesn't seem to matter how much I do with her, she doesn't tuck up at all and keeps filling out."