06/11/2004 12:00AM

Sandia's Flicka has speed to burn


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Rick Terry will be making a homecoming of sorts when he saddles Sandia's Flicka in the Emerald Downs Handicap at Hastings on Sunday. Terry, who was born in British Columbia and grew up on the Hastings backstretch, left Hastings a few years ago and has become one of the leading trainers at Emerald. He is currently third in the trainers' standings at the Auburn, Wash., oval.

Terry used to be part of the Hastings starting gate crew, but Sandia's Flicka won't need much encouragement when she breaks from the rail Sunday. A 3-year-old filly, Sandia's Flicka is very fast, and in most of her races she has been in front leaving the gate. She carried her speed the whole way to win the US Bank Stakes at Emerald on April 18, but couldn't quite hold on to her lead in the Federal Way Handicap on May 16.

Sandia's Flicka comes by her speed naturally, and her owner, Gary Thompson, used to race her against Quarter Horses when she was a 2-year-old.

"They were match-racing her as a baby," said Terry. "Mr. Thompson has a bunch of Quarter Horses, and she was so fast that she was beating them. The match races are pretty wild. The owners put up the money, and it's winner take all. Sandia's Flicka also showed that she could easily handle a half-mile, so they wanted to see how she would do running against Thoroughbreds."

According to Terry, Thompson bought out his partner for $7,500, and it's been a good investment. Sandia's Flicka has earned over $75,000.

"She's a treat to be around," said Terry. "She's low-maintenance, and she's just happy to be here. She's done enough for now, though, and I'm going to turn her out after this race."

Terry shipped Sandia's Flicka up to Hastings just over a week ago under the supervision of his daughter and assistant trainer, Brittany.

"She seems to have settled in nicely," said Brittany. "At first she had a little trouble with the turns, but that was because she was looking around. She's handling them just fine now, and she seems to like the surface. She should run a good race."

Another trainer who is returning to his roots is Steve Tatarniuk, who will saddle Always a Houston in the 11th race Sunday. Tatarniuk took a bit of a gamble when he dropped Always a Houston into a $5,000 maiden race May 30 after an encouraging debut in a maiden special weight event May 15. He got away with it, though, when Always a Houston won easily and there were no takers. Always a Houston is in a $20,000 nonwinners-of-two Sunday.

"I guess it was a bold move," said Tatarniuk. "But sometimes horseracing is like playing poker. A few people said I was lucky to get away with that one."

Tatarniuk grew up in the Vancouver area and was an exercise rider at Lansdowne Park in Richmond for Alan May. His mom worked in the cafeteria at Lansdowne, and he was also a jockey on the B circuit for a short time. But for the last 25 years Tatarniuk has been based in Saskatchewan and has done just about everything there is to do in horseracing there.

"You had to wear a lot of hats to get by in Saskatchewan," he said. "I was the track announcer at Marquis Downs, worked in the racing office, jockey agent - you name it, I've done it. I also worked in radio and won an award for the best country-gospel show in Canada. I even did some chart-calling for the Daily Racing Form and wrote stories for them. I had my trainer's license when I left here and renewed it last year."

Tatarniuk came back to British Columbia to help his parents, who are getting on in age.

"My kids have all grown up, so it seemed like a good time to come back," he said. "Along with Always a Houston, I've got a few young horses up from California, but they won't be ready to run for a while."

Tatarniuk said he's received a lot of help from trainers Jim McGhie, Lance Giesbrecht, and Dennis Terry since returning.

"There's a lot of knowledge between those old guys. They're kind of like my mentors," Tatarniuk said. "Lance and I go way back, and he's been extremely helpful with my return to training."