05/20/2004 12:00AM

Lord Nelson the star, Celt insurance


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - After two weeks without a stakes, three will be run at Hastings over this Victoria Day holiday weekend.

Sunday's feature, the $40,000 Hong Kong Jockey Club Sprint, shapes up as the best race of the meet to date. Ten horses are entered, and the Dino Condilenios-trained entry of Lord Nelson and Celt figure as the favorites.

Lord Nelson, who has been ridden by Frank Fuentes in every start since May 2001, has been the top older horse in British Columbia for the past three years. He started out 2004 with a front-running win in the 6 1/2-furlong George Royal Stakes on May 2. With the speedy Celt in the race, a different strategy will certainly be used in the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and with the $100,000 Lieutenant Governors' looming on the horizon July 1, Lord Nelson might not be as geared up for Sunday's race as he was for the George Royal.

"We won't be going to the front this time," said Condilenios. "And I did back off of him just a little after the George Royal. He came out of the race just fine, but he lays his body down every time he runs, and he usually likes a little more time between races."

Because of the spacing of the races Condilenios chose the Honk Kong Jockey Club over the June 12 John Longden as the final prep for the Lieutenant Governors'. That schedule worked last year, and it's notable that Lord Nelson regressed in the Hong Kong Jockey Club before successfully defending his title in the Lieutenant Governors'.

Condilenios gives the impression he will not be too unhappy if Lord Nelson doesn't win on Sunday. After all, he has been assigned a hefty 123 pounds and would likely pick up at least one more pound for the Lieutenant Governors' if he won again.

"It wouldn't be the end of the world if he doesn't win, but we're certainly leading him over with the intention of winning," he said. "Frank will let him relax early and then see if he can catch the front-runners."

Celt, whom Condilenios bought over the winter, is probably the fastest horse on the grounds. He won four races last year and finished second in the British Columbia Cup Sprint and the Hastings Speed Handicap. Condilenios bought him from Neal and Jean Sullivan for the bargain price of $25,000.

"Neal's health was deteriorating towards the end of last year, and he didn't think that he would have the energy to stay involved with the horse," explained Condilenios. "He could have easily gotten a lot more for the horse but he wanted me to have him. He was very generous, and it was pretty hard to turn down the offer."

Sullivan's health improved over the winter, Condilenios said.

Dancewithavixen has won both stakes races at the meet for fillies and mares, and with no place else for her to run before the June 19 Brighouse Belles, her owner and trainer, Tom Longsatff, has entered her in the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Metatron makes 2004 debut

The older stakes division at Hastings is deeper than it has been in a long time, and Metatron, who makes his seasonal debut in the second race Saturday, figures to become one of the leaders within the division.

A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding, Metatron has won over $235,000 and should appreciate the horses at Hastings compared to the ones he's faced throughout his 19-race career. As a 2-year-old, he finished second to subsequent Grade 1 winners Officer and Came Home. Last year he finished third behind 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. That's pretty elite company.

Metatron was bred and is owned by Brian and Yupa Bland who race under Coyote Creek Racing Stable. They also raced his mother, Dancing Ovation, who won minor stakes at Emerald and in northern California but never ran well at Hastings. Metatron is trained by Mel Snow, who is looking forward to running him Saturday.

"He seems to have a lot of talent," Snow said. "He came up here last August and we were planning on running him in some of the races in the fall. But he seemed like a tired horse so we felt that he could use some time off. He had been going pretty steady since he started out as a 2-year-old, and it seems like the time off has done him well."