10/30/2008 11:00PM

Slots money expected to turn things around


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The past year at Hastings has to be viewed as a year of transition where the local industry took a big step forward to get back on stable ground.

Following years of decline, it appears that the bottom was reached in 2007 and horsemen can look forward to better things in the next few years.

Obviously, the biggest news in 2008 at Hastings was the opening of 600 slot machines in midsummer. The revenue from the slots hasn't had a direct impact on purses yet; nonetheless, there were two purse increases at the meet, both of which can be attributed to a deal made with the Standardbred industry over simulcast revenue splits.

The live handle is down for the year but according to Raj Mutti, general manager at Hastings, the decline was anticipated.

"Because of all of the construction earlier in the year, we budgeted for a drop in the live handle, especially ontrack," he said. "We're pretty happy with the way everything has gone, and I also think the horsemen put on a much better product this year."

Mutti likes the way 2009 appears to be shaping up.

"Our early stall applications are substantially higher," he said. "We have received quite a few applications by trainers from other jurisdictions as well. I think we're finally headed in the right direction."

There is a strong possibility that more racing days will be added in 2009.

"We haven't applied for our dates yet, but we are looking at adding more days if the stall applications hold up," said Mutti. "We aren't sure how that is going to look, though."

The parent company of Hastings, Great Canadian Gaming Corp., doesn't release slot-machine figures. Mutti did say he was encouraged that every week the attendance on the slots floor seems to be a little better than the previous one.

"Some of the promotions we have put on have had a positive effect,"he said, "and hopefully we can keep growing the business."

Krazy Koffee favored for top honors

For many years the annual industry awards dinner has been held in the spring, but this year the dinner will be held Nov. 15 at the Boulevard Casino, in Coquitlam.

Krazy Koffee is certain to be voted the top 3-year-old in the province and has to be considered the leading contender for horse of the year. Trained by Cindy Krasner, Krazy Koffee reeled off four straight stakes wins and topped off the streak with a win in the Grade 3 B.C. Derby. He also came very close to beating a stellar field of older horses in the Premiers, losing in the last jump to Rosberg.

Spaghetti Mouse, trained by Lenore Daponte, is also a standout as the best older horse. He carried top weight while winning four stakes races, including the $106,000 B.C. Cup Classic and $107,000 Lieutenant Governors. His third-place finish in the Premiers could cost him the horse of the year title.

The toughest category in which to predict a winner is the 3-year-old filly division. There were no standouts, and the nod could go to Blue Sky Holiday, who won the Grade 3 B.C. Oaks at equal weights. She also ran well to finish third behind the older Against the Sky in the Ballerina. John Snow trains Blue Sky Holiday.

Lecturing Lynn, Remarkable Miss, and Dancing Allstar will also receive some support.

Against the Sky and Holy Nova stood out in the older filly or mare division in 2008. At the end of the year, Against the Sky was clearly the better horse. She beat Holy Nova in the Delta Colleen, and also the Ballerina, where they carried equal weights. Trained by Craig MacPherson, Against the Sky started out the year with a second-place finish in a $25,000 claiming race, but she developed into the best mare on the grounds.

El Sinaloense, trained by Juan Olmos, should be honored as the best 2-year-old colt or gelding. He waltzed through four straight stakes wins before two poor efforts to close out the year. Nonetheless, he was the only juvenile to win more than a single stakes race at the meet, and he dominated his rivals in all four of his wins.

What R the Odds and P. S. Good N Ready will both receive support for the leading juvenile filly. What R the Odds is the logical choice, however. She easily handled P. S. Good N Ready in the Timber Music and Lassie stakes before being turned out in late August. Because she is a Florida-bred and the fall stakes schedule is geared to Canadian- or B.C.-breds, What R the Odds really didn't have anywhere to run from the Aug. 23 Lassie until the Fantasy on Oct. 25. Her trainer, Mel Snow, didn't want to keep her in training for two months just to run in one race.

P. S. Good N Ready, trained by Cindy Krasner, would have had a strong case if she could have won the Fantasy. Unfortunately for her connections, she had a very rough trip, clipping heels and stumbling badly on the first turn.

The top sprinter award is between True Metropolitan, who won the George Royal in May, and B R Remark. The edge could go to B R Remark. He closed out his year with wins in the PNE Presidents Speed and the Express Handicap, setting a track record for six furlongs, 1:09.44, in the Speed.

True Metropolitan is clearly the better horse, but just one sprint win in May might not be enough.