11/18/2004 12:00AM

Thrilling Ascot goes to Alabama Rain

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The 1 1/16-mile Ascot Graduation closed the books on stakes races at Hastings last Saturday, and what a way it was to go out. Alabama Rain and Notis Otis, two talented 2-year-olds, put on quite a show in one of the most exciting races of the year. Hooking up on the backstretch, they battled head and head all the way to the wire, with Alabama Rain bobbing his head at exactly the right time. If the photo had been taken a jump before or immediately after the finish line, Notis Otis would have gotten the nod and remained undefeated.

Alabama Rain couldn't have had a better trip. Sitting just behind an early duel between Notis Otis and the 3-2 favorite One Special Hoss, Alabama Rain got a break when One Special Hoss drifted out going down the backstretch. With a big opening to go through, leading rider Pedro Alvarado moved Alabama Rain into contention just past the three-furlong pole and the race was on.

"He ran a big race," said Alvarado. "Both horses never gave up, and I didn't know if we had won or not until they posted the order of finish."

Alabama Rain is trained by Lance Giesbrecht, who said he wasn't counting on anything until the results were made official.

"I was watching the race down on the rail and I had no idea who won," he said. "People were congratulating me, but I wasn't about to say anything until I knew for sure. That was one hell of a race, though, and both horses deserve a lot of credit."

Giesbrecht also said Alabama Rain, who is owned by Peter Redekop B.C. Ltd, came out of the race with slightly sore shins.

"Peter was thinking of sending him to California for the winter, but he might need some time off now," said Giesbrecht. "We'll have to see how he is in the next few days before making a final decision."

Similar to when Exceller beat Seattle Slew in the 1978 Jockey Gold Cup, there seemed to be more praise on the backstretch for the loser than the winner. Notis Otis was very game in defeat, especially considering it was his first time going a distance and Alabama Rain had already gone around three turns twice before.

"They would have never come close to him if it wasn't his first time going long," said Jake Barton. "He was sucking wind when he pulled up, but he never quit trying, and I was very impressed with him. He's going to be a very nice 3-year-old."

The Ascot was the first time Barton had ridden Notis Otis. He replaced Chris Loseth, who is out with a broken collar bone.

Notis Otis is trained by Tracy McCarthy, who didn't blame the lack of a prep race for his defeat.

"Jake rode a great race, but I think the main thing that cost him was that Chris got hurt and wasn't available to gallop him into the race," she said. "Until he got injured, Chris had been the only person that had ever gotten on him before. That's racing, though, and I'm very proud of the way he ran. He came back great, but we'll give him the winter off, and I'm looking forward to bringing him back next year."

Western Writer, who finished third, should also be a factor in the local 3-year-old division next season. He trailed early but made a big move while going four wide down the backstretch and around the stretch turn. After going as wide as he did, it wasn't surprising that he came up a little short in the stretch.

"I was very happy with the way he ran," said trainer Juan Olmos.

Kelly, agent, dies at 63

Jockey agent Marty Kelly, who had been battling cancer for the past two years, died last weekend. He was 63.

Kelly started hustling book in 1965 and had been a jockey agent for most of the ensuing 39 years. He took out a trainer's license briefly in the late 1980's and had success, including with multiple stakes with Commander Bold. Kelly was still handling Jake Barton's business until he became too ill to continue a few weeks ago. He was also Sam Krasner's agent for the last 14 years.