04/15/2009 11:00PM

Stable purses, plenty of horses as meet opens


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Hastings begins its 2009 live meet Saturday with a strong card, especially compared to last year.

On opening day in 2008, Hastings ran eight races with just 51 horses. A total of 73 horses have been entered for the nine races carded Saturday.

"We have the enviable problem of having too many horses wanting to race here this year," Hastings general manager Raj Mutti said. "We have a tough economy to deal with, but I am looking forward to a good meet."

Mutti also said the revenue from the 600 slot machines installed at Hastings last summer has helped keep purses stable despite a decline in simulcast wagering over the winter.

Hastings has scheduled 76 days, five more than in 2008. The season runs through Nov. 8.

Saturday, Sunday, and holiday Monday post times will be 1:25 p.m. Pacific. Post time for Fridays and Wednesdays will be 7 p.m. The first Friday evening card is June 5. The first of two Wednesday nights is Aug. 26.

The Grade 3 British Columbia Derby received a $50,000 purse increase to $300,000. The 1 1/8-mile feature is scheduled for Sept. 27.

B.C. Cup, Aug. 3, is usually the biggest day of the year at Hastings. The format has been changed to help create a mutually beneficial rivalry with Emerald Downs. The conditions for the three races for older horses, the $50,000 Sprint, $50,000 Distaff, and $100,000 Classic, have been changed to include Washington-breds.

Emerald has reciprocated by making B.C.-breds eligible for three races on Washington Cup Day, Sept. 13.

Hastings will try and duplicate the success of B.C. Cup Day by lumping four stakes races on July 1. Heading the card will be the $100,000 Lieutenant Governors for 3-year-olds and up.

Other highlights of the meet are the $125,000 B.C. Oaks, Sept. 26; Grade 3, $125,000 Ballerina, Oct. 17; and Grade 3, $100,000 Premiers, Oct. 18.

Mario Gutierrez is back to defend his riding title. Troy Taylor, who has been the leading trainer for the past two years, is the odds-on favorite in the trainers' race.

The opening-day feature, a fourth-level allowance race with a $75,000 claiming option, drew five horses and goes as the eighth race. Smoke'n Coal, who won the $75,000 Grand Slam Stakes at Belmont Park in his second start as a 2-year-old, will be one of the favorites in the six-furlong sprint.

A 4-year-old colt by Smoke Glacken, Smoke'n Coal is the only horse in the field with a race under his belt this year, a fourth-place finish in a $35,000 optional claiming race over the inner track at Aqueduct on Feb. 22. He has only seven starts, and his last win came in the Grand Slam. Smoke'n Coal, who is owned by Swift Thoroughbreds Inc., was part of a package of horses recently purchased from Sheik Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley Stable. He is a full brother to $1.5 million graded stakes winner Smok'n Frolic.

Smoke'n Coal is trained by Dino Condilenios and will be ridden by Frank Fuentes.

Seminole Brave has very good speed and could be tough to catch if he gets away on his own.