09/25/2001 12:00AM

Fancy As vs. I'm Free


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Canadian Derby winner Fancy As and Hastings Park leading 3-year-old I'm Free head a list of 17 horses nominated to Saturday's Grade 2 $200,000 British Columbia Derby.

Also nominated and expected to run in the 1 1/8-mile race are Manitoba Derby winner Stage Classic and multiple stakes winner Diglett, who ran fourth as the favorite in the Emerald Downs Breeders' Cup Derby last out.

Fancy As has been brilliant in his 13-race career, winning 11 times and finishing second twice. He was second to Stage Classic in the Manitoba Derby but then came back to beat Stage Classic in the Canadian Derby at Northlands Park on Aug. 25. Fancy As is owned by Linda Smith and Red Ron Farms, and trained by Red Smith.

I'm Free, who races for Beverly Green and Henry Miller Jr., had won his previous four stakes races at Hastings Park before running an unlucky second in the Emerald Derby on Sept. 9. Gerry Olguin had him sitting comfortably just off the pace, but then was forced to make his move sooner than he wanted because Diglett, who was rank early, rushed up on his outside approaching the far turn. After putting Diglett away and drawing clear of the rest of the field, I'm Free was caught in the last few jumps by a late-closing Jumron One. I'm Free will be ridden by his regular jockey, Mark Patzer. Henry Miller Jr. trains.

*Wednesday's feature race is an $50,000 optional race that drew nine 2-year-olds going 6 1/2-furlongs and appears to be wide open. Count Katahaula could be favored off his last start, in which he came from slightly off of the pace to beat maidens. There should be plenty of speed for him to close against here.