09/14/2005 12:00AM

'Royale' drops in for a tag


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Champagne Royale figures to be a short price when she takes on five other fillies and mares in an optional $35,000 claiming race at Hastings Friday evening. Her toughest challenge in the 1 1/16-mile race could come from the lone 3-year-old filly and the only stakes winner in the race, Country Kat.

It's a bit surprising to see Champagne Royale show up for a $35,000 claiming price. Trained by Janet Armstrong, Champagne Royale is coming off of a very good second-place finish to her stablemate Stormented in the Matriarch Handicap July 30. Then again, Armstrong is loaded with older fillies and mares, and Champagne Royale was one of the four horses she nominated to the Delta Colleen Stakes, which will be run Saturday.

While Champagne Royale has never won going around three turns, she's gone this far only twice and both times she came close to winning. Aside from her second in the 1 1/16-mile Matriarch, she finished third by a head in an optional $65,000 race July 15, which was also won by Stormented.

Celtic Wison figures to set an honest pace and that should help the chances of the late-running Country Kat.

Country Kat's last win was in the Fantasy Stakes last year. Since then she's been stakes placed three times and she's coming off of a troubled fifth in the Nanaimo Stakes Aug. 20, which she might have won with a clear trip in the stretch.