10/09/2003 11:00PM

Premier's distance subject of debate

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The Grade 3, 1 3/8-mile British Columbia Premier's, which runs Sunday at Hastings, is supposed to be the premier race for 3-year-olds and up in the province. Traditionally, it's also the first time 3-year-olds take on older horses here, and the last two renewals have been won by 3-year-olds (Shacane in 2002 and Fancy As in 2001).

Roscoe Pito, who won the British Columbia Derby, has a good chance to extend that streak Sunday. But because of the size of the purse of the Premier's, even a win by Roscoe Pito might be a bit of a letdown for his connections.

The B.C. Derby, the richest race in province history, was worth over $300,000, and the Premier's, at $100,000-added, is worth less than the $150,000 Ballerina Breeders' Cup and the $150,000 B.C. Breeders' Cup Oaks.

With the possibility of slot machine revenue available for purses in the near future, Hastings director of racing Debbie Peebles is hoping the race's value will be increased.

"The Premier's should be worth more," she said. "But right now we just don't have any more purse money available. When the slot money comes in, I'm sure it will go up."

Some horsemen would also like to see the distance of the race shortened, but Peebles doesn't necessarily agree.

"We've had some pretty good Premier's in the past, so I'm not sure if that's such a good idea," she said. "But that's something I can work out with the horsemen if they really wanted to make the change."

It's not surprising that there are strong opinions regarding the distance, and those opinions seemed to be divided depending on age. Younger trainers would like to see it shortened, but the more experienced conditioners want no change.

"Don't even bring it up," said Harold Barroby, the all-time leading trainer at Hastings. "It's the closest thing we have to a classic distance and there's been a lot of good horses that have won it. I also think that it probably helps identify who the good trainers are."

Barroby also thinks that a horse doesn't need a particular running style to get 11 furlongs.

"Charlie Chalmers was a front-runner and Pampas Host came from out of it," he said of two Premier's winners.

Dennis Terry won the Premier's by a nose two years in a row with Haveigotadealforu, in 1990-91. He agrees with Barroby.

"We should have a big race for staying horses," he said. "It really separates horses that can relax and horses that won't. A mile and a sixteenth is just like a sprint here, and there's plenty of chances around here for that type of horse."

Leading trainer Dino Condilenios disagrees.

"I think the premier race for older horses should be worth a lot more money and it would probably be a better race at a mile and an eighth," he said. "I just think that on a bullring, that a mile and three-eighths is a bit much. But more importantly, we need one big race after the derby that both 3-year-olds and older horses can point to."

Roscoe Pito's trainer John Snow would also like to see it shortened.

"It's not because I'm not sure if Roscoe will go that far," he said. "I've just never liked watching horses go that far here. Turf races going that far on a mile track are a different story."

Certainly the Premier's deserves a bigger purse, but looking back at the race, it would be hard to justify changing the distance. Only six horses ran in the Premier's last year, but field size usually has been decent. Besides the dominant performance by Artic Son in 1998, the stretch run has produced many memorable moments.