11/21/2002 1:00AM

Weekend-only racing for one more year


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Hastings Entertainment intends to continue racing just two days a week for one more year.

That was the main focus of a five-year business plan presented to the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association at an open informational meeting last week.

Garth Essary, vice president of operations, explained how the per-race handle was significantly higher on weekends, and until the horse population increases Hastings management feels it is necessary to stick to the two-day-a-week schedule.

"Our goal is to increase purses and for now this seems the best way to go about it," said Essary. "Right now we're looking at just one more year for the two-day schedule. Hopefully we can get the number of racing days back up to their traditional level but we just don't have enough horses right now."

Essary also pointed out that while there are fewer racing days, the total number of races run this year will be higher than in the two previous years. "We're projecting a similar amount for next year," he added.

One of the concerns raised at the meeting was how the two-day week affected the jockeys and what plans there were to help keep riders from leaving to ride elsewhere.

Hastings management has been in negotiations with The Jockeys' Guild regarding a bonus plan for local jockeys. "We'll put up some extra money to encourage riders to stay," said Phil Heard, Hastings president. "We haven't worked out all of the details yet, but we're meeting with the riders this weekend and we should be able to get it done by then."

Heard also said that Hastings would hire a nutritionist to help jockeys cope in dealing with weight issues and would also install gym equipment to give them a place to work out mid-week.

It's hard to convince horsemen of the merits of a two-day week, and a lot of the people in attendance at the meeting voiced their displeasure with the idea. But Mel Snow, HBPA president, also feels the two-day week is the best way to go right now.

"No one likes the idea of a two-day week but we have to work together to turn things around," he said. "This isn't a management versus horsemen issue; we're all in this together. Just think of where we were this time last year ,and while we have a long way to go, we've made great strides. And remember, it's just for one more year that they expect to have this schedule."

Heard echoed that thought. "We want to run as many days as we can," he said. "We're in the business of horse racing and the live product is what drives the industry. If we have enough horses to run four days a week we'll do it."

Debbie Peebles, the track's racing secretary, said that stakes purses were slated to go higher next year. "Other than the 2-year-old stakes, all of the $35,000 ones will be bumped up to $40,000," she said. "Plus we're looking at moving the B.C. Derby up to $250,000."

That figure represents a $50,000 increase for the B.C. Derby.

American Justice reinjures tendon

American Justice, winner of the Premiers in 2000, would have been a solid favorite to win the Lions Gate last weekend but injured his tendon and was scratched.

"It's the same one he bowed two-years ago," said his trainer, Rick Kamps. "It's not that bad and he could come back next year, but we'll just have to see how it heals over the winter."