09/18/2003 11:00PM

What if 'Roscoe' is pressed?


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - A field of nine 3-year-olds will line up in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 British Columbia Derby, the most prestigious race of the Hastings season. If all nine start, the total purse will be more than $300,000, making it easily the richest race in the history of British Columbia.

The B.C. Derby has attracted horses from Ontario, California, and Alberta, but the favorite will be a British Columbia-bred. Roscoe Pito has won his last three stakes. and his dominating win in the Sept. 1 Emerald Derby stamped him as the horse to beat.

Roscoe Pito moved to the head of the local 3-year-old division with an impressive 5 1/4-length win in the Jim Coleman Province on July 20. He came right back with a hard-fought decision over Illusive Force in the B.C. Cup Stallion Stakes on Aug. 4 and then handily won the Emerald Derby in his last start.

His running style could present a problem, though. Roscoe Pito wants to be in front, but so do Bold Texas and Taiaslew. Roscoe Pito has been an easy winner when allowed to dictate the pace but narrowly held on in the Stallion Stakes when he was pressured early. Leading rider Pedro Alvarado takes over the mount from an injured Sam Krasner.

Trainer David Cotey hasn't had much luck shipping horses from Woodbine to Hastings but he is back again with Pants N Kisses, who won the Victoria Park Stakes at Woodbine in June but hasn't found the winner's circle since. He finished a dull third in the Manitoba Derby but ran a big race to finish second against older horses in an allowance race at Woodbine on Aug. 22. The derby should set up nicely for his good late move.

"The two favorites look like they'll have to go toe to toe," said Cotey. "He's never run on a bullring, but if he handles the track he should have a big shot."

Pants N Kisses will also have a new rider for the derby. Gerry Olguin, who owns the record for the most stakes wins in a season at Hastings but now makes Woodbine his home track, will ride.

Taiaslew has been the dominant horse in Alberta for the past two years, but his second-place finishes in the Manitoba and Canadian derbies raise questions about his ability to negotiate nine furlongs. He carried a five-length lead into the stretch in both races before giving in late.