09/05/2003 12:00AM

Season's best racing begins soon

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The kitchen utensil salesmen are gone, the cotton candy has been eaten, and it should be a lot easier to get into Hastings with the Pacific National Exhibition finally over. The good news is that the best part of the meet is about to begin. Beginning next Sunday with the Jack and Sadie Diamond futurities, more than $900,000 worth of stakes money will be up for grabs in the next month and a half.

Of course the most important race of the season is the Grade 2, $250,000 British Columbia Derby on Sept. 21. And by the looks of things, it should be a dandy. The local contingent is headed by Roscoe Pito, who has won his last three starts, all added-money events, and was the easiest of winners in the Emerald Derby last Monday. But he has never won from off the pace, and with Taiaslew in the race it's hard to see either of them getting away with an easy lead.

That should give horses like Steady Smiler and Mister Mane Man a shot. They dead-heated in the Richmond Derby Trial and both of them came from well back.

Owner K.K. Sangara will probably run two horses in the derby. He recently claimed Royal Place for $62,500 out of a winning race at Del Mar. Royal Place has been running exclusively on the turf this year but he won his maiden and was stakes placed on the dirt at Hollywood Park last year. Sangara will also likely give Johnny Ola another chance after he was unplaced in the Richmond Derby Trial.

Royal Place shipped into Seattle on Thursday and was scheduled to arrive at Hastings on Saturday, according to Sangara's trainer, Harold Barroby.

Currently, Pants N Kisses is the only horse planning to ship from Woodbine.

Two fillies possible for derby

The Grade 2, $150,000 B.C. Breeders' Cup Oaks on Sept. 20 is shaping up as a showdown between Dancewithavixen and Raylene. That is, of course, if they both run in the Oaks instead of the B.C. Derby.

Tom Longstaff, who owns and trains Dancewithavixen, still isn't sure where he will run her.

"I'm leaning towards the Oaks," Longstaff said. "I think she might be able to win the derby but she would probably have to run a lot harder and I'm looking at more than just one race with her.

"We know she'll try hard and it might take a lot out of her running against the boys. But, we'll see. It really depends on who ships in."

In her last two races Dancewithavixen ran on the same day as the local 3-year-old colts and geldings - and both times she ran faster. She also packed more weight, and it's hard to describe how impressive she was while winning the Free Vacation Stakes by 7 3/4 lengths under 126 pounds last Monday.

Raylene hasn't been nominated yet but she beat Taiaslew in the Canadian Derby at Northlands Park. Considering the expected pace scenario for the B.C. Derby, she would be a prime contender if she runs there instead of the Oaks.

The Grade 3, $150,000 Ballerina Breeders' Cup is scheduled for Oct. 11 and Dancewithavixen is also headed there, where she would likely be favored. The older filly and mare division at Hastings doesn't have a clear leader but Shelby Madison and Elana d'Amour would be the logical contenders.

Two-year old fillies stretch out for the first time in the $50,000 Fantasy Stakes on Oct. 4 and then could take on colts and geldings in the $75,000 Ascot Graduation on Oct. 19.

Lawson returning to England

Apprentice Mark Lawson is following the lead of Emma Abbott and is headed back to England after he rides this weekend.

Lawson was just starting to heat up and has shown great improvement in his riding recently. Last weekend he won four races and he was named on 19 mounts for Saturday and Sunday.

"I was accepted into a mechanic's course back there and I thought it would be good to have something to fall back on when my riding career's over," Lawson said.

* According to his trainer, Dino Condilenios, Lord Nelson came out of his third-place finish in the Longacres Mile in good shape and is being pointed to both the Sir Winston Churchill on Sept. 20 and the Grade 3, $100,000 Premiers on Oct. 12.