11/29/2002 12:00AM

New management sorting out its priorities


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It has been seven months since Woodbine Entertainment Group bought Hastings Park, and while Woodbine management is pleased with the progress that has been made, it is also aware there is a lot more to be done in order to move the industry forward.

"We knew exactly what the situation was in British Columbia," said Jim Ormiston, chairman of Hastings and executive vice president and chief operating officer of Woodbine Entertainment Group. "We knew about the physical state of the property. We knew that the lower mainland cries out for a good teletheater network. We also knew that none of these challenges could be fixed overnight, or even in a year or two."

Ormiston also said that he was pleasantly surprised how well extending the meet until Dec. 1 has worked out. "The handle for the month of November was better than we thought it would be, so we're confident about doing it again next year."

"We've met a lot of our goals for the year, but there have been some disappointments as well," said Phil Heard, president of Hastings Entertainment Inc. "We've had a modest increase in the amount wagered per race and the field size has improved from 7.0 to 7.4 horses per race."

The major disappointment for the new regime has been not being able to get a local teletheater network started. According to Nick Eaves, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Woodbine, the main obstacle has been that "municipal politicians haven't been convinced of the benefits provided by these venues. But with the election out of the way, we are confident that progress can be made in this area."

Heard said that getting at least a couple of local teletheaters up and running will be the number one priority in 2003.

Lord Shogun in Sovereign running

Three-year-old Lord Shogun is the only local horse to make it as a finalist for a Sovereign Award in Canada, but it would be hard to choose him over Shacane as the top 3-year-old in British Columbia. Lord Shogun won all four of his races this year, but he beat pretty weak fields in Alberta and Manitoba, and if he had made it to the BC Derby, he would have been third choice at best. Plus, his Beyer Speed Figures just don't compare with the ones that Shacane has put up. Lord Shogun's best Beyer Figure was the 79 he earned when he beat Test Drive by a nose in an allowance race at Hastings in May. His second-best was a 78 for his win in the Manitoba Derby, on Aug. 5, which was his last race of the year. Shacane earned a Beyer Figure of 86 for his win in the Jim Coleman Province and closed out the year with an impressive win over Futural in the Grade 3 Premier's. His 93 for the Premier's indicates how far Shacane has come since his he finished third in his May 26 career debut.

Rob VanOverschot, the trainer of Lord Shogun, is considering going to the Sovereign Award Dinner, which will held in Toronto on Dec. 7.

"At first I didn't think he had much of a chance at winning the award, but friends in Toronto told me not to count him out," he said. "They pointed out that neither of the other two finalists" - Forever Grand and Le Cinquieme Essai - "had won a graded stakes and he won two. I know he didn't beat much in his wins, but that's not his fault. He showed up didn't he?

VanOverschot also thinks that Lord Shogun would love the turf and he might send him to Woodbine to try it next year.

Top honor up for grabs

Fancy As was an easy choice as horse of the year in British Columbia last year, but there's no clear-cut choice this season.

Off the strength of his wins in the Jack Diamond Futurity and Ascot Graduation, Illusive Force rates the nod over Don't Pali Me as 2-year-old champ.

With no multiple stakes winners, the 2-year-old filly division is wide open. Chorus Dancer might get the award off her victory in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy Stakes. She also finished third in the Sadie Diamond Futurity.

Elana D'amour should be an easy choice as top 3-year-old filly, although Grace for You deserves honorable mention for her win over older mares in the Ballerina.

It's a toss-up between Kid Katabatic, Lord Nelson, and Vernon Invader for top older horse, with the sentimental vote going to 9-year-old Kid Katabatic.

Grey Tobe Free dominated the older filly and mare division with three easy wins in three starts.

Danzilation should be named sprinter of the year for winning the Speed Handicap in the fastest time of the year for 6 1/2 furlongs, 1:15.74.

Horse of the year is anybody's guess, but if Shacane hadn't had such a bad trip in the British Columbia Derby, it wouldn't be up for discussion and his win in the Premier's might have cemented the deal.