04/23/2009 11:00PM

Royal matchup in the making

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The first stakes race of the meet, next Saturday's $50,000 George Royal, is shaping up to be a great race. The 6 1/2-furlong George Royal drew a strong list of nominations that includes two-time Sovereign Award winner True Metropolitan, Spaghetti Mouse, and Krazy Koffee. With $857,796 in the bank, Spaghetti Mouse is the all-time leading B.C.-bred money winner. Krazy Koffee was the horse of the year in British Columbia last year.

The champion sprinter in the province for the past two years, B R Remark, also is expected to run.

True Metropolitan has won the last two renewals of the George Royal and will likely be favored. But his trainer, Terry Jordan, isn't making his usual confident predictions. Jordan shipped the other star in his barn, Dancing Allstar, to Woodbine to win the Whimsical Stakes last weekend.

"I was pretty sure Dancing Allstar was going to win," said Jordan. "True Met is another story. He tailed off at the end of the year and he's 7 now. He's training okay, but, well, we'll just see how he runs."

After winning the George Royal last year, True Metropolitan looked like he was on his way to a third straight Sovereign Award when he won the Grade 3 Eclipse at Woodbine. He hasn't won since.

He did run well in his four starts following the Eclipse, finishing second each time, and after breaking poorly he was unlucky not to win the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. He was obviously over the top when he got beat by Test Boy in the Speed to Spare at Northlands Park. Sent off the odds-on favorite, he gave up a two-length lead in the stretch to lose by a half-length. He followed his surprising loss in the Speed to Spare by going unplaced in the Premiers at Hastings and the Grade 2 Autumn at Woodbine. True Metropolitan is the only horse ever based at Hastings to have earned more than $1 million.

Jordan is using the George Royal as a guide to what kind of schedule he'll map out for True Metropolitan.

"I think all of the travel of going back and forth to Woodbine, Alberta, and here finally caught up to him," said Jordan. "I don't want to run him against horses he can't beat anymore, so if he's a step slower, he'll probably stay here most of the year. If he's up to it, we'll certainly take a look at some of the races at Woodbine."

If looks count for anything, True Metropolitan is going to be tough to beat Saturday. He was very sharp in his six-furlong move in 1:13.80 on April 20 and he looked like the picture of health when he cooled out in his stall after the strong move.

Spaghetti Mouse sharp for comeback

Spaghetti Mouse also looks like a happy horse heading into his first start of the year. Trained by Lenore Daponte, Spaghetti Mouse finished a surprising second in the George Royal last year. It was a surprise because Spaghetti Mouse has made his reputation at longer distances. He was the top handicap horse at Hastings last year, with four straight stakes wins. Spaghetti Mouse closed out the year with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Premiers, which might have been his most impressive race. Carrying high weight of 126 pounds in the 1 3/8-mile Premiers, he made a premature move into a very fast pace. After losing the lead on the stretch turn, he showed his class by fighting back in the stretch. If he is as good this year, he will become the first B.C.-bred to become a millionaire.

Daponte is happy with the way Spaghetti Mouse wintered and she gives a lot of credit to local blacksmith Reg Peat.

"He always spends the winter at Reg's farm in Abbotsford," said Daponte. "They take great care of him there, and he couldn't be doing any better right now."

Daponte isn't concerned where Spaghetti Mouse finishes in the George Royal. The early goal for Spaghetti Mouse is the $100,000 Lieutenant Governors on July 1.

"He is very sharp right now, so it wouldn't surprise me if he ran a big race on Saturday," said Daponte. "He had a great work last weekend, and we know he's going to try. But, really, he's a much better horse going a distance."

The work Daponte was referring to was Spaghetti Mouse's best of the day six-furlong move in 1:12.60 on April 19.

Hockey game hurts handle

Vancouver has become a world-class city in many ways. The Winter Olympics will be staged here in 2010. There is a strong arts community, and food critics from around the world are always raving about the cuisine. When it comes to professional sports, however, it is still a one-horse town. The particular horse is the Vancouver Canucks. The influence they have on the city was seen in the opening weekend wagering figures at Hastings.

According to Raj Mutti, general manager at Hastings, the live handle on opening day was up by 12 percent over last year. But on Sunday, when the Canucks, who are in the early stages of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, had a 4 p.m. start, the handle dipped by 26 percent from the comparable day in 2008.

"We did have a few scratches that hurt Sunday's figures," said Mutti. "But the place just about emptied at 3 o'clock. People were obviously headed home to watch the Canucks."