08/06/2001 12:00AM

Closer's track can't stop I'm Free in Stallion Stakes


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The Hastings Park surface usually favors horses with early speed, but after a steady pelting of rain leading up to the first two days of the B.C. Cup Saturday and Sunday, the wet track took a surprising turn, and horses who came from off the pace those days had a decided advantage. It also helped if they weren't down on the rail, where horses seemed to get bogged down.

I'm Free ($4.70) was a solid favorite to win the colts and geldings division of the $53,950 B.C. Stallion Stakes, but with with the track the way it was, it looked like he might be vulnerable. However, he cruised to a 3 1/4-length victory over Godolphin Road, who hung on for second after leading for the first six furlongs.

Jockey Mark Patzer had I'm Free close behind Godolphin Road, who set moderate fractions of 23.57 seconds, 48.19, and 1:13.68. I'm Free took control just past the quarter pole, and the only real question was who would finish second. Final time for the 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy track was 1:47.54.

Patzer's decision to take back I'm Free proved to be a correct one.

"I let Mark decide how he's going to ride the horse, and when he came into the paddock he told me that he was going to take I'm Free back off the pace and let Godolphin Road go," said trainer Henry Miller. "I was thinking the same thing, so I was pretty happy to hear that we had the same plan."

"The way the track was playing," said Patzer, "I figured it didn't make a lot of sense to use him early. He relaxed beautifully for me, and when I asked him to run he just took off."

Miller said he would send I'm Free home for a few days and then start getting him ready for the Emerald Downs Breeders' Cup Derby on Sept. 9.

"It's three weeks before [the B.C. Derby] and I don't want to send him to the Canadian Derby because it's a hard ship to Alberta, and the main goal is the B.C. Derby," Miller said.

Trainer Harold Barroby is contemplating sending third-place finisher Thurston to the 1 3/8-mile Canadian Derby on Aug. 25. "He should love the distance," said Barroby.

Patzer was also aboard Catahoula Rose for her win in the fillies divison of the Stallion Stakes. She paid $7.20 as the second choice behind Lady's Jewel, whose front-running style didn't help her on the tiring surface.

Trainer Terry Marshall was on hand to saddle No Time Flat ($5.50) to win the $53,240 B.C. Cup Nursery Stakes Saturday. Marshall said No Time Flat would be pointed to the $100,000 Jack Diamond Futurity Sept. 9.

Marshall has been shuttling back and forth between northern California and Hastings Park all year and just recently sent four horses to Del Mar.

"It's complicated running horses at three different locations," he said, "but I have very good help so I don't worry too much about not overseeing every part of the operation."

The Marshall-trained Prodigious finished second in the $100,000 Joseph T. Grace Handicap at Santa Rosa on Saturday.

"He's turned into a pretty handy horse," Marshall said. "We're planning to ship him up to Emerald, and his next start will likely be in the Longacres Mile."

Marshall said he was looking to purchase a horse out of California for the B.C. Derby.

Kim Hart, who owns Prodigious, went that route when he claimed Wandering for $62,500 at Hollywood Park and then won the 1999 B.C. Derby with him.