04/11/2006 11:00PM

Still no slots, but spirits are high

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Live racing returns to Hastings this Friday, and while optimism for the future of racing in the province is still high, the slot machines approved by the Vancouver City Council in 2004 still have not arrived.

A lawsuit filed by a local citizens group against the city of Vancouver is the latest obstacle. The Hastings Conservancy claims that the city didn't follow its own guidelines when it gave approval for Hastings Entertainment Inc. to install slot machines at the track. The case began on Monday, and lawyers from both sides should be finished with their presentations by post time on Friday.

Due to the optimism fueled by slots, the barn area is overflowing. While the opening-day card came up a little weak, racing secretary Lorne Mitchell is confident he will be able to put together strong cards for the remainder of the year.

A total of 78 racing days have been scheduled, five fewer than last year. The Grade 3, $250,000 British Columbia Derby, on Sept. 24, offers the biggest purse at the meet. B.C. Cup Day is set for Aug. 7.

The minimum purse for a stakes race has been bumped from $40,000 to $50,000.

Post time for weekends and holidays is the usual 1:25 p.m. Pacific. Friday cards, which begin July 7 and finish Aug. 25, have been moved to 6:55 p.m.

The 6 1/2-furlong George Royal for 3-year-olds and up headlines the opening-day card, and Quiet Cash figures to be the favorite. A 5-year-old gelding, Quite Cash was clearly the best horse in the province in 2005, and according to his trainer, Terry Jordan, he has progressed over the winter.

"I think he's a better horse than he was last year," said Jordan. "He's training beautifully, and it's going to take a good horse to beat him."

Quiet Cash came out strong last year, winning a couple of optional sprints by the identical margin of 6 1/4 lengths. His best race was a second-place finish in the Longacres Mile.

Quiet Cash will be ridden by Chad Hoverson, and will need to be at his best on Friday to defeat a tough group of horses. The field of six includes Grade 3 winners Alabama Rain, Roscoe Pito, Spaghetti Mouse, and Lord Nelson as well as Premiers winner Bull Ranch.