06/22/2006 11:00PM

Lt. Governors coming up strong

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The Grade 3, $125,000 Lieutenant Governors next Saturday will easily have the best field of the year. Fourteen horses have been nominated to the Lieutenant Governors, the first major race of the season, and it appears that at least nine will start, possibly 11.

Returning to defend his title will be R. Associate, who is coming off an upset win in the Emerald Downs Handicap on June 18. Last year, R. Associate finished a troubled third in the Emerald Downs Handicap before winning the Lieutenant Governors.

A 6-year-old gelding by Crafty Prospector, R. Associate was purchased by Garth Weeks out of the horses in training sale at Hastings last spring and was based here with trainer Arnie Turner for most of 2005. After running an uncharacteristically poor race in the Sir Winston Churchill last September, R. Associate was sent to trainer Ricky Terry in New Mexico, where he ran in three stakes races over the winter. He finished in the money in all three of his starts there, and his best finish was a third in the $81,000 Veteran Stakes on Nov. 25 at the new Zia Park in Hobbs, N. M.

After a few weeks of down time, R. Associate returned to the Pacific Northwest in early April. Instead of coming back to train at Hastings, though, he ended up in Vince Gibson's shedrow at Emerald Downs and made his first start for Gibson in the Emerald Downs Handicap. Gibson was one of the few people who wasn't surprised by R. Associate's win.

"I would have liked to have gotten a start into him before he had to hook into the top horses on the grounds," he said. "But he had been training really well, and I knew he could run a bit."

Gibson said R. Associate came out of his race in good shape, and that as long as he continues to train well, he'll be up for the Lieutenant Governors.

"I gave him three days off, and he seemed fine when he went back to the track," said Gibson. "He's been eating everything we've been feeding him, and right now everything looks pretty good."

Alexandersrun 'training like a bear'

Trainer John Snow has nominated three horses for the Lieutenant Governors: Alexandersrun, Tobe Suave, and Roscoe Pito.

"I think Roscoe will stay in the barn," he said. "I'm pretty sure he couldn't beat Alexandersrun right now. Tobe Suave is supposed to arrive here this weekend from Hollywood Park, and if he ships okay we're planning on running him, too."

Alexandersrun won the Emerald Downs Breeders' Cup Derby last year, and, like Tobe Suave, he has been running in California this year. He will fit a lot better with the horses he will be facing Saturday. In his first two starts at Santa Anita, he ran in the Grade 1 Malibu and the Grade 2 Strub and finished well back in both races. His connections came back to reality and shipped Alexandersrun up to Golden Gate, where he finished second to 2004 Longacres Mile winner Adreamisborn in an overnight handicap March 4. His last two starts have been on turf, and he didn't make much of an impact in either race.

According to Snow, Alexandersrun has thrived since arriving at Hastings a few weeks ago.

"He's training like a bear," he said. "He worked 59.40 with my wife, Tammy, up, and she said, 'I never turned him loose.' He had some problems with his feet when he arrived here, but they're fine now. He's just really coming around, and I expect him to run a big race."

Flamethrowintexan might come

It's a bit surprising that the connections of Flamethrowintexan haven't shipped him north of the border more often. A 5-year-old trained by Jim Penney, Flamethrowintexan has started twice at Hastings and has won impressively both times: He dominated the Grade 3 B.C. Derby by a widening 8 1/2 lengths in 2004 and easily defeated a good field of horses in the Sir Winston Churchill last September. Flamethrowintexan, who finished third as the 4-5 favorite in the Emerald Downs Handicap, has been nominated to the Lieutenant Governors, but his assistant trainer, Kay Cooper, said it's 50-50 on whether he'll run.

"We haven't made up our minds," said Cooper. "We didn't get to train him the way we wanted for his last race, and he came up a bit short. We're not really sure if he's ready to go a mile and an eighth right now, but he came out of his last race in good shape and it's certainly possible we'll come up there. One thing we do know is that he likes the track at Hastings."

The betting favorites for the race will be Quiet Cash and True Metropolitan, who will race as an entry for owner Bob Cheema. Both are trained by Terry Jordan and are coming off a stakes win. Quiet Cash won the John Longden 6000 here May 22, and True Metropolitan scored a 3 1/2-length win in the Herald Gold Plate at Stampede Park on June 11.