10/16/2003 11:00PM

'Samarai'a cut above competition

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Three-time stakes winner Lord Samarai heads a full field of 2-year-olds in the $100,000 Ascot Graduation at Hastings on Sunday. The 1 1/16-mile Ascot is the lone middle-distance race open to all 2-year-olds at Hastings and is the final major stakes race at the meet, which closes Nov. 30.

Despite never having gone around three turns, Lord Samarai, who races for Canyon Farms and is trained by Rob VanOverschot, figures to be a heavy favorite. He's the lone stakes winner in the field, and, being a half-brother to 2002 Alberta and Manitoba derby winner Lord Shogun, he shouldn't have any trouble handling the extra distance. Lord Samurai overcame a rough start to win the Jack Diamond Futurity on Sept. 14, and he worked a very strong six furlongs before the races last weekend. Nicola Wright will ride.

Louie Downtown surprised his owner-trainer, Tom Longstaff, with a win going around three turns in an allowance race Oct. 4.

"I really didn't think he would go that far," Longstaff said. "Most of his siblings are sprinters, and he looks like a sprinter. This is a tough spot, though."

Louie Downtown picks up 10 pounds and will carry 122 pounds, as will the rest of the field. Cayetano Chaparro retains the mount.

Nihilator drew the rail and will be the one they have to catch. In his most recent outing, he set the early fractions and held on well to finish second behind Louie Downtown. He won his previous two starts: a straight maiden race on the 3 1/2-furlong Nursery Course on Sept. 6 and a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race on Sept. 21.