04/26/2007 12:00AM

Meet opens amidst cloud of uncertainty over slots

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Hastings opens its 2007 live meet on Saturday and it figures to be a tough year for local horsemen. There will be only 68 days of racing, 10 fewer than last year, and the 20 percent purse reduction that was instituted last fall is still in effect.

Purses are down because the slots that were approved by the Vancouver City Council in August 2004 still haven't arrived. Purses for the past few years were based on potential slot revenue.

Management at Hastings and Great Canadian Gaming Corp., Hastings's parent company, won't say when the slots will be installed. Nevertheless, there are signs that the slots could come sooner than later.

A new roof is being installed and the maintenance department is also working on waterproofing the area in the lower grandstand where presumably the slots floor will be located. Both actions suggest that there has been movement in lease negotiations with the City of Vancouver and officials in charge of the development permit that is needed for the slots to be installed.

Mel Snow, president of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, remains optimistic about the future.

"We've hit the bottom and there's no place to go but up," said Snow. "I know Great Canadian isn't saying anything, but they wouldn't be spending the money on the plant if they didn't think things weren't progressing with the slots."

Along with the shorter season, which ends Nov. 4, the other major change in 2007 is a different post time when Fridays are added at the beginning of July. Because California can't bet into Hastings on Friday evenings, Hastings will experiment with a post time of 2:25 p.m. Pacific. Post time for weekends and holidays are 1:25 p.m.

Highlights of the meet include the Grade 3, $250,000 British Columbia Derby on Sept. 23 and B.C. Cup Day, Aug. 6.

The opening-day feature, the fillies division of the $50,000 CTHS Sales Stakes, drew four horses, including the 2006 local 2-year-old filly champion, Suva, and her arch-rival Chelsey's Image.

The 6 1/2-furlong race is restricted to Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies who have gone through a Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society Sale. It goes as the third race.

Suva and Chelsey's Image took turns beating each other last year. Suva earned her divisional championship by virtue of her easy win in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy last October.