05/12/2006 12:00AM

Newcomers bolster jockey corps

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It's probably no coincidence that when Justin Stein shipped his tack to Woodbine this year, the jockey colony at Hastings became a much deeper and competitive group. After all, Stein won 148 races and almost $2.5 million here last year and with him out of the picture, that's a lot of money up for grabs.

For the first time in quite a while, there is a full contingent of jockeys at Hastings, more than 20 riders, and competition for mounts is stiff. In previous years trainers would complain if they didn't get one of the top three or four riders and in some cases wouldn't enter their horses if they couldn't get the rider they wanted. That will not be the case this year, and even in the rare 12-horse field, trainers will have a good selection of riders from which to choose.

One strong addition to the local colony is Anderson Ward. Ward impressed more than a few trainers when he rode here last fall, and has decided to ride at Hastings full time this year. He's off to a good start at the meet with 5 wins from his first 30 mounts.

Ward began his riding career in his native Barbados, where he competed against the likes of Patrick Husbands, who is one of the top jockeys in Canada. Ward was good enough to win the riding title in Barbados four times.

"He's one of my best friends, and he's a very good rider," said Husbands by phone from the jockey's room at Woodbine. "We would battle it out every year for the champion rider. No matter how you put it, he can ride."

Ward arrived in Canada in 1999 and until now, has been based in Assiniboia Downs since then. His best year was in 2001 when he won 66 races. He had an excellent chance of being the leading rider that meet when circumstances intervened.

"I was second in the standings when I took a couple of days off to go back to Barbados for the funeral for Patrick's mother," Ward said. "The funeral was Sept. 12, and I ended up having to stay there for a couple of weeks because of what happened on Sept. 11. There were quite a few jockeys stuck there."

In 2004 Ward went back to ride in Barbados to ride for trainer Bill Marshall but when Marshall died, Ward returned to Winnipeg. He won 34 races last year, but had his eye on Hastings for most of the time he was there.

"I was always looking for another opportunity, and I finally decided to take a shot here," Ward said.

Ward came to Vancouver last fall to test the waters and rode for the last month or so and was pleased with the response he got.

"It went well," Ward said. "I seemed to be accepted so I made up my mind to ride here this year."

One person who has been using Ward is the all-time leading trainer at Hastings, Harold Barroby.

"I like the way he rides," Barroby said. "He should do well here."

Another strong addition to the local jockey colony is Carlos Silva. He rode at Hastings as an apprentice in 2003 and was just starting to get rolling when he suddenly picked up and left. His last day here he rode three winners.

"I was pretty young at the time, [17], and I just got homesick," Silva said.

Silva went back home to Mexico for a while and then landed in northern California, where he has been riding off and on since 2004. He also rode in Mexico City.

"I broke my thumb in California so I went back to Mexico again and actually rode about 70 horses there," Silva said.

Silva's work permit was due to expire in the United States when he received a call from local owner Juan Lara and his trainer Terry Jordan.

"They invited me to come here," Silva said. "I really liked it when I rode here before so I was happy to come back."

Felipe Valdez is also back riding at Hastings. Management at Hastings asked him to leave in the fall of 2004. They told Valdez that he wasn't conducting himself in a professional manner. Their biggest complaint was that he was booking off of his mounts too frequently.

"I was very immature and they were right. I really didn't handle myself like a professional," Valdez said. "I've grown up a bit, and I'm very thankful for the opportunity to ride here again. I'm going to act in a more professional manner this time, work hard and, hopefully, win a lot of races."

Valdez, who won 10 stakes at Hastings in 2003, was the regular rider for multiple stakes winner Dancewithvixen, and has renewed his relationship with Dancewithvixen's trainer, Tom Longstaff.

"Felipe has always had the talent," Longstaff said. "He just needed to grow up, and it seems as if he's matured quite a bit. I'm glad to have him back riding for me."

Longstaff and Valdez already teamed to win a stakes with Spirit to Spare at this meet.