04/15/2004 12:00AM

Under new owners, pick six returns


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Hastings opens its 2004 live season Saturday under the new ownership of Canadian Gaming Corp. and Peter Wall, who paid Woodbine Entertainment Group $20.1 million to take over racing at Hastings, the only major track in British Columbia. Wall, who will have a big role in managing Hastings, has already put his stamp on the operation by bringing back the pick six.

Wall says he has had great success with the pick six, hitting one worth more than $760,000 in 1982 and another worth $960,000 in 1983. In order to jump-start the pick six at Hastings, there will be a guaranteed pool of $50,000 during the meet. Racing is scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays, but Wall would also like to add a midweek card to the 71-day meet, which ends Nov. 28.

Senior management remains unchanged since the sale, and general manager Phil Heard is very optimistic about the 2004 racing season.

"We have more horses than we had last year, so we should be able to put on a better product," Heard said. "I also think that with local ownership we'll have a lot better chance of getting approval for slots."

The Vancouver City Council will address the Hastings application for slots on June 8.

As usual, the $250,000 British Columbia Derby is the most important race of the meet, and it is scheduled for Sept. 26. B.C. Cup Day, another meet highlight, is Aug. 2.

First post time has been changed from 1:23 p.m. to 1:03 p.m. Pacific.

The opening-day feature, the $40,000 Strawberry Morn Stakes, drew only five horses, but the race brings together last year's 3-year-old filly champ, Dancewithavixen, and the leader of the 2003 older filly and mare division, Shelby Madison.

Given the way the 6 1/2-furlong event shapes up, the edge should go to Dancewithavixen, who should appreciate what is likely to be a hotly contested pace.

Shelby Madison, trained by Toni Jacobson Cloutier, won three stakes last season, but she hasn't sprinted since 2002, and most of her wins came when she could control things up front. With speedsters Secret Bullet and Grace for You drawn inside of her, it's hard to see her getting a clear lead Saturday. She'll be ridden by the leading rider here for the previous two years, Pedro Alvarado.

"She's training extremely well," said assistant trainer Mark Cloutier. "I know 6 1/2 furlongs isn't her best distance, but she's doing so well she should make a good showing."