04/23/2008 11:00PM

Slots bring optimism to meet

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Hastings begins its 2008 meet Saturday, which could mark the resurgence of horse racing in British Columbia. After a steady decline over the last decade, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.

A new slots and entertainment area should be ready by mid-summer, and the handle at offtrack wagering sites continued to grow over the winter.

Purses have been increased 20 percent from last year, and there will be 71 days of racing, three more than in 2007.

Harold Barroby, the all-time leading trainer at Hastings, and a board member of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, is feeling positive about how everything is starting to come together.

"To really drive racing you need three things," Barroby said. "Bigger purses, more racing days, and a good racing surface. Purses are headed in the right direction and they should increase quite a bit when all the slots are in. The track surface is fine, and we're going to get more racing days. Plus the tele-theaters are going great. Things are looking up."

Highlights of the meet include the Grade 3, $250,000 British Columbia Derby on Sept. 21 and B.C. Cup Day on Aug. 4. The $50,000 President's Speed Handicap at six furlongs on Aug. 30 is a new addition to the stakes schedule.

Another change this season is that a $200 appearance fee will be paid to horses that run out of the money in $25,000 claiming races or higher. Hastings pays purse money to the first five finishers.

"We hope it helps our average field size in the higher categories," said Raj Mutti, general manager at Hastings.

Mutti also said Hastings will pay the shipping costs for horses coming up from Washington or California.

"We want to encourage trainers based in Washington and California to look at running horses here," he said.

Post time for Saturday, Sunday, and holidays will be 1:25 p.m. Pacific. Friday racing begins July 11 with a 2:25 p.m. post.

The opening day feature is a $25,000 claiming race for 3-year-olds and up that drew five horses. Taylor's Route will likely be favored in the six-furlong sprint that goes as the seventh race.