09/05/2002 11:00PM

Celebrating freedom by breeding winners

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Jerry Kolybabiuk is a general surgeon by profession, but his knowledge of Thoroughbred pedigrees is also cutting-edge.

Kolybabiuk has five broodmares in production at Freedom Acres Farm in Moorestown, N.J., a mom-and-pop operation that he and his wife, Maria, began developing in the 1980's. Kolybabiuk says he spends about a month planning each mating there.

Within the past three months, Kolybabiuk's efforts have been rewarded as never before, by two homebreds who have racked up three stakes victories.

Kolybabiuk celebrated the biggest triumph of his horse-owning career when Willie's Luv won the $75,000 Pennsylvania Oaks on Labor Day at Philadelphia Park. A second-generation homebred (by Williamstown out of the Dixieland Brass mare Dixie Fever), 3-year-old Willie's Luv now is being pointed to Philadelphia Park's Grade 2 Cotillion Handicap on Oct. 5.

Willie's Luv and her stablemate American Freedom - both trained by Jamie Woodington - each won a New Jersey-bred stakes during the Monmouth Park meet. Willie's Luv set every fraction en route to a 6 1/2-length score in the Santo Lalomia Handicap on June 15, and American Freedom, a 4-year-old colt by Marquetry, capped off a five-race win streak at Monmouth in the Aug. 11 Lincroft Handicap.

Kolybabiuk's two stakes winners are closely related, both tracing to Freedom Acres's foundation mare Got a Cold (by Drone), whom Kolybabiuk purchased for $13,000 (with Willie's Luv's dam, Dixie Fever, in utero) at the 1991 Keeneland November sale. A half-sister to graded stakes winner and sire It's Freezing, Got a Cold was a "discard" from Lane's End Farm, said Kolybabiuk, who owned only one other mare before her.

Dixie Fever started things off on the right foot, winning three of six starts and finishing third in the 1995 Wistful Handicap. She earned $61,800 before joining the broodmare ranks. She produced Willie's Luv (an earner of $143,035) as her third foal.

Now semi-retired - she wasn't bred in 2002, but may return to the breeding shed next season - the 22-year-old Got a Cold is the dam of three other stakes performers bred by Kolybabiuk: the previously mentioned American Freedom, who has earned $189,930; Freedom's Dawn ($186,650; third in the Colleen Stakes); and Freedom Quest ($185,349; second in the Morven Stakes and third in the Great Falls Stakes).

Kolybabiuk rarely buys or sells horses, preferring to race his homebreds, and currently has eight in training with Woodington and Mike Redwood, who is also based in New Jersey.

Of Ukrainian parentage but born in Austria, Kolybabiuk, 56, grew up mostly in South America, where he became fascinated with racing.

"Race meets in Venezuela were a most magic time of year," he said.

After attending medical school in Madrid, Kolybabiuk served his residency at a hospital in Philadelphia, and set up practice in nearby Moorestown - primarily because it was so close to now-defunct Garden State Park.

"My wife and I bought 21 acres, cleared the land, and built a home and barn," said Kolybabiuk. "I built the barn myself - it took me 10 years, working on weekends - and did all of the fencing."

The Kolybabiuks handle all of the daily care of the horses on their farm, and he serves as farm midwife, delivering the foals himself.

Kolybabiuk also takes an active interest in racing politics in New Jersey, and has served as vice-president of the state's Thoroughbred breeders' organization. He intends to retire from medical practice in a few years, and expand his farm into a commercial breeding operation.

That his farm, and many of his horses, have the word "freedom" in their names is an important part of Kolybabiuk' story.

"My parents lived under communism, and when we came to the U.S., it was a new birth of freedom for the family," he said. "The horses celebrate that freedom."