05/20/2001 11:00PM

Who's the fairest in the land of B.C.?


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Last year King Jeremy was deservedly named horse of the year in British Columbia. A gelded son of Free at Last, King Jeremy won five races, three of them stakes, and never finished worse than second in eight starts. His best race might have been the $175,000 British Columbia Derby, in which he set quick fractions and then held on gamely to finish second behind Makors Mark.

While it's hard to knock King Jeremy's record and $147,372 in earnings last year, he was somewhat lucky, never being under any pressure early while setting pedestrian fractions on the front end. Taking a close look at his past performances reveals that in all of his wins he had at least a one-length lead after a half-mile, and the quickest half-mile in any of those races was 47.63 seconds. Cheap claimers rarely get away with those type of fractions at Hastings Park. In the Richmond Derby Trial, Lord Nelson went after him early and, although King Jeremy was around at the finish, he couldn't hold off Ball and Chain at the wire and lost a head decision.

King Jeremy and Ball and Chain will vie for favoritism in Monday's Victoria Day Stakes.

"I think Ball and Chain is the better horse," said his trainer, Allan Jack. "Of course, I always think I have the best horse."

Although King Jeremy has won three of the five times they have faced each other, a strong case could be made in Ball and Chain's favor. "The first time he faced King Jeremy was in the Province [June 25] and he had never gone three turns before, while King Jeremy was coming off a win at the distance," said Jack. "Ball and Chain ran a good race to finish second but he was tired and he came home rubber-legged."

Their next meeting came two weeks later and although King Jeremy prevailed again, Ball and Chain would have won if he hadn't been stuck on the rail behind a wall of horses. When Ball and Chain found clear sailing at the top of the stretch he made an impressive move but came up a head short. After shortening up to win the Mr. Prime Minister - King Jeremy didn't run - Ball and Chain got the best of King Jeremy in the Richmond Derby Trial. Next up was the B.C. Derby.

"We would like to forget about that day," said Jack. "He got left at the starting gate and never picked up the bit after that." On the other hand, King Jeremy, who was dismissed at almost 12-1, ran a very big race in the Derby to finish second.

They were both turned out after the Derby and they renewed acquaintances May 6 in the 6 1/2-furlong George Royal, in which Ball and Chain was making his first start of the year and King Jeremy was coming off a third in an allowance race April 22. King Jeremy actually got away with fairly moderate fractions for a sprint but he couldn't hold off Ball and Chain and was edged out at the wire by three-quarters of a length.

"Ball and Chain is a tough horse, but you can't take anything away from King Jeremy's record," said his trainer, Robbie Anderson. "Our goal now is to try and get him to relax. Hopefully we'll get an outside post Monday and he can lay off of one of the other horses."

Both trainers reported that their horses are training exceptionally well and while they expect them both to run good races Monday, they are aware that it's a long season and that championships aren't decided at 6 1/2 furlongs. The real fun should begin when they stretch out in the near future.