04/17/2002 11:00PM

Woodbine's Hastings purchase is still not quite finalized


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It's a done deal. Well, almost a done deal.

That's pretty much the way Woodbine's attempt to take over the Pacific Racing Association, operators of Hastings Park Racecourse, has gone.

It looked like the deal, which has been ongoing for approximately a year and a half, was finished at last when the PRA and the Woodbine Entertainment Group scheduled a joint press conference for last Wednesday. But at the last minute it was canceled and another press conference has been set for May 1.

All of the details between the PRA and the Woodbine Entertainment Group have been worked out and the only thing standing in the way of the deal is an agreement with the provincial government. "It's been a real on again off again situation," said Derek Sturko, general manager of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, Racing Division, who has been handling the negotiations for the provincial government. "However, right now all signs are good. You never really want to say something until the ink is dry on the paper, but hopefully they will have something to announce at their press conference May 1."

The mantra coming from the Woodbine Entertainment Group is that until there is something to announce, positive or negative, they are in negotiations and don't want to comment.

"You never know what's going to happen so we'll just have to wait and see," said Hastings Park general manager Phil Heard. "I'm still optimistic but I've been that way all along."

Purses should remain stable

Heard said that Hastings Park will be able to pay out the same purses as last year. "We had certain products that were up and some that were down. Our wagering on Florida was really down, but that was offset by a big increase on Hong Kong," he said.

Wilson returns from California

Last year's leading rider, David Wilson, is back to defend his title after a successful winter in northern California.

"It went as well as could be expected," said Wilson. "I know it's tough to get started somewhere else but I ended up in the top 10 and at the end I was riding horses for some of the top trainers."

Another rider who had a successful winter was Felipe Valdez. He was the leading rider at the shortened Portland Meadows meet and had the best day of his career when he won seven races on a single card. "I was riding with great confidence down there and I'm hoping to get off to a good start up here," said Valdez.