08/03/2001 12:00AM

Miller likes Mike K in B.C. Cup Sprint

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Henry Miller Jr. will saddle starting highweight and likely favorite I'm Free in the B.C. Cup Stallion Stakes on Sunday, but that's not the only reason he's looking forward to B.C. Cup Weekend.

Miller and his wife, Charlene, share galloping duties for their own horses, but Henry also gallops horses for other trainers, and eight of them will be running in the various stakes races that make up the B.C. Cup. The most notable of the eight is 1999 British Columbia horse of the year Mike K, who will be making his first start at Hastings Park since finishing third in the 1999 Premiers. Mike K missed all of last year with an injury to one of his suspensories, but he looked better than ever winning the 6 1/2-furlong Independence Day Handicap in near track record time at Emerald Downs on July 4. Mike K figures to be the odds-on choice in the B.C. Cup Sprint on Monday for trainer Allan Jack.

Track superintendent Drew Levere had been Mike K's exercise rider since the beginning of 1999 but when he broke his leg while schooling a 2-year-old in the starting gate a few weeks ago, Miller took over. "He's a monster," said Miller. "I can't imagine anybody outrunning him Monday. There's some nice horses in the race but he's just too good." Miller was aboard for Mike K's final prep, a four-furlong breeze in 50.80 seconds Aug. 1. "A.J. wanted a nice breeze, so I just sat there, and basically it was just a fast gallop. If I had turned him loose he would have taken off so I opted for the slower. I don't think that A.J. could have him any better."

Lord Nelson figures to be a solid favorite in the Classic over last year's British Columbia horse of the year King Jeremy. Lord Nelson, a son of Maudlin, could be another Mike K in the making. Both horses were average 3-year-olds and then turned into stakes winners at 4.

As a 5-year-old, Mike K dominated the stakes divisions at both Emerald Downs and Hastings Park. The way Lord Nelson looked capturing the Hong Kong Jockey Club in his last start he could be ready to do the same. "He really turned it around in last year's B.C. Derby," said trainer Dino Condilenios. "Although he finished eighth, he learned how to relax, and it's carried on to this year. Now he's more of a push-button horse. If you want him to go slow he will."

Condilenios has backed off Lord Nelson's training leading up to the Classic but was still confident that he would run his race. "He ran hard in his last race, and this one comes up a bit quick, so I just wanted to make sure he didn't bounce.

"He worked a nice half the other day, and he should be fine. After the Classic we'll give him a break." The main goal, said Condilenios, is the Premiers on Oct. 14, "so we'll try to keep him fresh for that."

Leading trainer Harold Barroby has never won a B.C. Cup race, but he's hoping that Thurston will change that in the B.C. Cup Stallion Stakes. Barroby had four winners on Wednesday's card and holds a commanding lead in the trainer standings with 26 wins.

"I haven't had many stakes horses in the past couple of years, but that's the way it goes," said Barroby. "You have to have the right horses at the right time. How many of these races would I have won if they had B.C. Cup when Delta Colleen was running."

Thurston is a much improved horse of late and should have a good chance of pulling off an upset over I'm Free.