06/25/2003 11:00PM

Stratoplan to stalk hot pace

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Three-year-olds take center stage at Hastings on Saturday, as colts and geldings line up in the $75,000 Burnaby Breeders' Cup and fillies square off in the $40,000 Liberation. Both races are at 1 1/16 miles.

The Burnaby appears to be wide-open, with Stratoplan installed as a slight favorite. A good-looking chestnut, Stratoplan is coming off a very good second to older stakes winner Ekati in his first try at a middle distance. Stratoplan, owned by Canyon Farms and trained by Rob VanOverschot, broke a step slowly in that optional claiming race and then had to steady in the run down the backstretch the first time. He showed good determination to nose out Nineleventurbo for second.

"I'm looking forward to watching him run," said VanOverschot. "He's improving with every start and is really starting to settle down."

Stratoplan will be ridden by Nicola Wright, and she figures to have him sitting off of what is likely to be a lively and contested pace.

Five Point Star, Roscoe Pito, and Gamblin Caper all have good speed, and it's hard to see any of them getting loose on the lead.

Another horse that should benefit from a quick pace is Steady Smiler. Owned and trained by Rob Mabin, Steady Smiler won his maiden in his most recent start. And while the jump into stakes company might seem ambitious, Steady Smiler displayed some class by being stakes-placed a couple of times as a 2-year-old.

Plus, his win was visually impressive. He sat off of a tepid pace and when he was asked for some speed by jockey Felipe Valdez, he immediately took control of the race and widened his margin to 7 1/2 lengths at the finish without much urging down the stretch.

Meanwhile, Dancewithavixen towers over the 3-year-old filly division at Hastings and figures to be a short price over five other horses in the Liberation, which goes as the first race.

Dancewithavixen has won two of the three sprint stakes races in the filly division at Hastings this year and comes into the Liberation off of an easy 4 3/4-length win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race June 14. The Liberation will be her third start within a 21-day period, but the busy schedule doesn't appear to bother her.

She looked as sharp as ever in a half-mile work in 48.40 seconds on Monday. She's owned and trained by Tom Longstaff, and will be ridden by Felipe Valdez.