06/24/2004 11:00PM

Tobe Suave could complete Bryant's recovery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Steve Bryant is about 30 pounds heavier than he was at this time last year, and that's good news for people close to him. Bryant, who was the leading trainer at Hastings in 2002, hit rock bottom last year. With 20 wins from 107 starters, including five stakes wins, Bryant's numbers on the track weren't that bad, but he struggled both physically and mentally.

"I had a lot to deal with, and frankly, I didn't handle it very well," said Bryant, 35. "I recently lost some family members, and I was also having problems with colitis, but the worst thing was that I got addicted to drugs."

Bryant also had some financial difficulties, and because of those problems the Hastings stewards asked him to submit to a drug test. He never showed up for the test, and subsequently he was suspended last October. A renewed Bryant showed up this spring, and he was reinstated after passing a urine test in April. He hasn't yet started a horse at the meet, but he will saddle Tobe Suave in the $75,000 Burnaby Breeders' Cup on Canada Day this Thursday. A Florida-bred colt, Tobe Suave figures to be one of the favorites. Right now, Bryant has only one horse in his stable, but he's hoping to add a few more.

"I just want to train four or five good horses," he said. "I think the stress of training a large stable over a long period of time had a lot to do with my problems. I don't think I could ever go back to training 25 to 30 horses at one time again."

Bryant had a very successful relationship with owner Kim Hart, and among their many successes was a win in the 1999 B.C. Derby with Wandering. They parted ways at the end of last year, and Bryant has hooked up with Ross McLeod, the CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, the current majority owners of Hastings.

"It was tough to lose a longtime friend and owner like Kim, and I certainly wish him well," said Bryant. "But I'm thrilled to be involved with Mr. McLeod. He's very enthusiastic about horse racing and he's committed to bringing quality horses to Hastings. I think Tobe Suave is the nicest 3-year-old I've ever had and he should run a big race in the Burnaby."

Tobe Suave is coming off of a third-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park stakes at Woodbine on June 13, and Bryant said that he's adapted well to his new surroundings. He worked a solid five furlongs in 1:02.40 seconds at Hastings on Friday morning, coming home the final eighth in 11.40 seconds. "That was a nice easy work for him," said Bryant. "He just ran a mile and an eighth, so he's plenty fit."

McLeod and Bryant could have a starter in the Grade 3 $100,000 Lieutenant Governors', which also runs this Thursday. They nominated Gratitude Attack to the race, and if they can complete a deal for him by this weekend, he'll run.

Whatever the outcome of Thursday's races, Bryant is just happy to be back at the track. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity that Mr. McLeod has given me," he said. "I've had a lot of support from many people and now I'm back at the track and I'm stronger, fatter, and happier than I've been in a long time."

Bryant referred to the Lieutenant Governors' as potentially the "best race I've ever seen at Hastings," and two of the probable starters are expected to arrive from California Friday night. Both Yougottawanna and Royal Place will fly to Seattle, and then take the four-hour van ride up to Vancouver. Yougottawanna won the $100,000 Seabiscuit Handicap at Golden Gate in his last start. Royal Place, who was unplaced in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 6, is coming off a fourth in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the turf at Hollywood Park. He finished a half-length behind 2003 Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil in his previous start. According to his owner, K.K. Sangara, jockey Gerry Olguin will fly in from Woodbine to ride Royal Place.