All is nearing readiness for the annual harness racing meet at Sandown Park. 

This year the meet at the North Saanich emporium will be short but sweet with 10 days of racing. The opening day will be Saturday, July 10 and the big finale is Aug. 8. On, and between, those days there will be racing each and every Saturday and Sunday afternoon with a 1:15 first-race post time. 

Once again several stakes races will highlight the race programs. They include the Oak Tree on July 17, the Arbutus on July 18 and the Dogwood on Aug. 8. Each is expected to go for a purse of at least $20,000. 

Several top names dot the list of those nominated for the Oak Tree for three-year-old colts and geldings and for the Arbutus for three-year-old fillies. 

The Oak Tree has conditions of non-winners of three races or $8,000 but many of the 21 nominated will be familiar to B.C. racing fans. 

Dillens Dream, a winner for the second time on the last weekend at the Downs, will likely be entered along with Sail On Saylor who just won in a new lifetime mark of 1:56.4. Other winners like Sail The Seven Seas, Law Of The Yukon, Kamajo Ken, Noteworthy, Meekos Trucker, Rusty Nail, Phantom, Da Lil Dude, Lil Dudes Keeper, Billy The Cheetah and Notorious Pick are eligible.  

The story is different for the Arbutus Stake where many of those nominated are already stakes winners of note. Eighteen have been nominated in the event which is open to all Canadian-owned or sired fillies.  

Leading the way is Da Lil Dudett, the daughter of Apaches Fame out of South Ferry. She captured the Delta Pace at the Downs in March after a 2003 in which she won five races in seven starts, including the $46,355 B.C. Breeders Stake, which helped her in being named B.C.’s two-year-old filly of the year in 2003.  

She most recently (June 18) finished second in the Northlands Filly Pace in Edmonton, three lengths behind Just Sassy who won in 1:54.2. 

Others who have already won in stakes company are Celtic Rayne, Red Star Marianne, Sharons Pass and Miss St Labush. A recent addition to the B.C. scene, Rustle For It, has been first three times and second once in four starts in 2004. 

The Sandown meet will conclude with the Dogwood Cup Stakes for both colts and fillies.

The elimination, if needed, for the colts (non-winners of four races or $12,000 lifetime) will be on Saturday, July 31 with the final for a purse of $22,000 a week later. The elim for the fillies (non-winners of five or $20,000 lifetime) will be Sunday, Aug. 1 with the final on Aug. 8. 

Meanwhile, Chuck Keeling, general manager of Sandown, operated by Orangeville Raceway, reports that most attention this season at Sandown will be focused off the track. 

“I mean, of course,” Keeling explained, “that we’ll be closely monitoring the political situation, in that this could be the last season of racing if we fail to convince North Saanich Council of the merits of a $2-4 million overhaul of the facility, which would include the installation of 150-200 slot machines.  

“Our proposal that was presented in early May has been deferred to District staff,” Keeling said. “They are expected to make their recommendations by July 19. At that point, Council will decide whether to proceed with our proposal or not. 

“Thus, a lot of work will be directed to issues off the track rather than on.” 

ARENDT MAINTAINS CAPPER LEAD: John Arendt still holds a narrow lead, now after nine weeks of the Ultimate Capper Contest. 

Arendt widened his margin slightly by picking up $11.70 last week from Fort Erie and raising his total to $253.10. Debbie Tarabas stayed in second place, $13.70 behind after pocketing $2.80 last Saturday. 

Bob Kosolofski surged into third place as he led all comers last week with $87.60 and now has a nine-week total of $198. 

Tim Wiesner slipped one spot, and is now fourth at $195.50. Ron Miscich is fifth at $193.10, Roy Yip sixth at $190.40 and D.W. Jones seventh at $177. 

Eugene Ohara and Mary Blinkhorn were second and third last Saturday. 

Other weekly winners have been Jones, Wiesner, Tarabas, Brenda Hoffman, Sid Marshall, Fred Lester, Andy Kevener and Les Raymond. 

The winner of the UCC will get a vacation for two to see the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar race track in sunny Southern California. 

The UCC, which started May 1 and covered 10 consecutive Saturdays, ends this week.  

Contestants pick a horse in three of the designated six races from the track of the week.  A mythical $2 win/place/show wager is made on each of the three horses that are selected and at the end of each contest day, the top three contestants win cash.

The contestant with the highest total of mythical dollars won over the 10-week period will win the vacation for two to Del Mar.  The vacation includes flight from Vancouver International Airport, three nights accommodation, premium seating while at the race track and $500 spending /transportation money. 

Contestants can still go after the weekly prize by getting an entry ballot in the Finish Line at Fraser Downs up until post time of the first race of the featured track (this Saturday is Hollywood Park thoroughbreds). 

ATRIUM GETS HALL: The B.C. Harness Racing Hall of Fame will be part of the renovated grandstand at the Fraser Downs Racetrack & Casino. 

The B.C. Standardbred Association, the B.C. Standardbred Breeders Society and Orangeville Raceway Ltd have agreed to pursue the project, which will be built in the new atrium entrance area. 

Previously, many pictures and artifacts had been displayed in the Legends Lounge, which has disappeared as the new casino for slot machines is under construction. 

The new location should provide a high profile for the hall as the atrium will serve as the main entrance to both the racing and slot areas. It is hoped that work on the atrium entrance area will be completed by April, 2005. 

A Steering Committee is being established to get the project off the ground. The two main tasks of the committee will be to establish the hall of fame as a not-for-profit society and to provide guidance to the design of the physical space in the Downs facility.

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