08/17/2005 12:00AM

Notis Otis has very special return


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Notis Otis made a triumphant return to the races last Sunday. Last year's local 2-year-old champion, Notis Otis had come very close to dying earlier in the year, and at the time it didn't seem likely that he would ever make it back to the races, let alone this year.

Ole Nielsen of Canmor Farms, who bred and co-owns Notis Otis, was extremely nervous before the race.

"I've run in a lot of big races in the past, but I've never been this nervous before a race," said Nielsen. "I can't believe he was able to come back so quickly. He's an amazing horse."

Sunday's allowance victory was the fifth win from seven career starts for Notis Otis. A gray or roan colt, he won three stakes and lost by a nose to Alabama Rain in the Ascot Graduation last year. He was scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the City of Vancouver Stakes in April, but when only two horses entered, the race was canceled. His connections opted to ship him to Alberta to run in the Presidents Handicap on May 7, and, according to his trainer, Tracy McCarthy, that's where his troubles began.

"He got wiped out coming out of the starting gate, and it's possible the trauma of being hit so hard weakened his immune system," she said. "He contracted a very serious virus when he came back to Vancouver. His blood became as thick as syrup, and basically they read him his last rites."

There weren't many dry eyes in the McCarthy shed row following Notis Otis's win Sunday. A more subdued McCarthy was plotting Notis Otis's schedule on Tuesday morning.

"He came out of the race absolutely fantastic," said McCarthy. "It took about 10 minutes before he got his air back, and then he starting acting his usual crazy self. I had no idea how well he would stand up following everything he went through. It's truly remarkable, but he's been a remarkable horse from day one."

It won't be easy, but McCarthy thinks that Notis Otis could be a factor in the $250,000 British Columbia Derby on Sept. 24.

"He's feeling so good that I don't see why he can't run back in the Derby Trial," on Sept. 5, said McCarthy, "and then we'll see where we are with him. The B.C. Derby is certainly a possibility."

It was pretty amazing that Notis Otis was able to find a place to run before the Richmond Derby Trial, and in the end it was a bit of a fiasco on Sunday, with only three horses running in the race.

With five wins, Notis Otis doesn't have any conditions left, and it wasn't easy finding enough horses to fill an unconditioned allowance race. Actually, McCarthy had to sell her interest in another horse, Delta Monarch, in order to make the race go. She sold her share of Delta Monarch to her mother, but when it was discovered after the program had been printed that McCarthy owned part of Notis Otis, the horses had to be coupled anyway.

At Hastings, if a trainer owns part of a horse, any other horses they train in the race have to be coupled. Since they weren't coupled on the program, Delta Monarch was scratched.

Then, on the way to the paddock, Forecaster had one of his shoes come loose. The shoe was not put back on properly in time for the post parade, so he was also scratched.

Michael Mackey, who has been hired as a consultant for Hastings, looked at it this way.

"Obviously we aren't thrilled about running a three-horse field," he said. "But, we're happy that one of our stars is back on track, and the other two horses had also been off for a while, and they needed the race as well."

Newcomer has good week

Owner Thomas Bell has had quite a week. Bell is new to horse racing, and his first victory was with Alexandersun in the Seattle Slew Handicap at Emerald on Aug. 7. Bell also won the Langley Handicap with Appearance Fee at Hastings last Sunday. They are both being pointed to the $250,000 British Columbia Derby.

Trainer John Snow wasn't sure where Appearance Fee would run next. He is considering either the $100,000 Emerald Downs Breeders' Cup Derby on Sept. 5 or the Richmond Derby Trial on the same day.

"He came out of the race in good shape, so we're going to nominate him to both races just to keep our options open," said Snow. "We made a few changes since he arrived here, and from the way he ran it looks like we have him headed in the right direction. I think he'll run even better in his next race."

Jockey Jake Barton was aboard for the win, and he was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

"When I worked him I wasn't impressed at all," said Barton. "But John told me that he was working on a few things and that he was a much better horse than the one I worked. He did a great job of turning this horse around."

Appearance Fee was making his first start at Hastings. He finished fourth in a $40,000 claiming race at Del Mar on July 21. A Kentucky-bred, Appearance Fee has started only seven times, and if he continues his improvement under Snow, he could be a serious contender for the B.C. Derby.