09/26/2001 11:00PM

'Afterthought' colt filled the van


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - For a horse that was merely an afterthought, Fancy As has turned out to be much better than "just a horse to fill the van."

Red Smith, part-owner and trainer of Fancy As, was left with an open slot in his six-horse trailer when he was heading home from racing in Manitoba in 1999. Not wanting to go home without a full load, Smith made a last-minute decision to bid $3,200 on a good looking Manitoba bred colt by Dignitas in the Manitoba yearling sale.

"I was over there racing and getting ready to go home," he said. "I had an empty spot in my six-horse trailer so I decided to buy a yearling to fill the space. I had gone up to $26,000 on this other horse but he went for a little bit more than that.

Fancy As is by a Kentucky stallion and he looked pretty good so I bought him instead. He's turned out to be a pretty good buy."

That's quite an understatement. Fancy As has gone on to win more than $350,000 and figures to add to that total Saturday in the $200,000 B.C.

Derby. He has won 11 of 13 starts, and according to Smith, he had excuses in both losses, in which he ran second.

"Both times horses got away with slow fractions up front," he said. "He couldn't catch Stage Classic after he got away with a 49 [-second] half in the Manitoba Derby, and the same thing happened [at 2]."

Smith was hopeful that the same thing wouldn't happen in the derby. "He needs a pace to run at and from the looks of it there should be a good one," he said. "He has speed but I sure don't want to use it if I don't have to. He's a stalker and he runs a lot better if he can make just one move."

It's hard to say which Diglett will show up in the B.C. Derby. If it's the one that easily beat I'm Free in the Klondike Stakes in May or the one that won the Washington Owners' Championship by more than six lengths, then he's probably the winner. However, mixed among those dominating performances are a few disappointing races, including a fourth-place finish in the Emerald Downs Derby that cost jockey Sam Krasner the mount. Krasner has taken criticism for moving Diglett too soon in the Emerald Derby, but in Krasner's defense, Diglett made the exact same move when he won the Washington Owners' Championship.

"I don't know what the difference was between the derby and his previous race," Krasner said. "When I came to Gerry [Olguin] on I'm Free in the derby, I felt like I had plenty of horse and he was smooching at his to try and keep up. But this time he just didn't kick in."

Olguin, who rode I'm Free in the Emerald Derby, will fly in from Woodbine to ride Diglett. "It was the owner's [Rodger Lam] decision," said trainer Gary Demorest. "He wasn't pleased with the ride at Emerald and wanted to make a change. Gerry will take a good look at the tapes and then decide how he'll ride him Saturday."

Diglett worked a very good five-furlongs in 59 and change under Frank Fuentes here Sept. 22. "Frank is a good friend of Gerry's and he consented to working the horse for him," said Demorest. "We were all pleased with the work and hopefully he'll run his race Saturday."

It's hard to tell who will be favored at post time, but there will be a lot of people backing I'm Free. Henry Miller Jr. has done an excellent job of developing I'm Free into a legitimate derby contender. Earlier in the year he looked like a one-dimensional horse but under Miller's guidance and with plenty of help from jockey Mark Patzer, I'm Free has learned to relax behind other horses.

Miller was proud of the horse's effort in the Emerald Derby and

will make a slight adjustment for the B.C. Derby. "Olguin thought that he had a little more horse left and if I'm Free had seen Jumron Won coming on his outside he probably would have won the race," Miller said. "He had holes in his blinkers but the holes are going to be much bigger for this one."

Another plus for I'm Free is that he'll be reunited with his usual rider Mark Patzer, who has been on a tear lately and after winning three races Wednesday, is only three wins behind leading rider David Wilson.