07/04/2003 12:00AM

Free House's first winner


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Free House, a two-time California-bred horse of the year, had his first winner when Head of the House won a maiden special weight for 2-year-olds Wednesday at Hollywood Park.

Free House, 9, is the most prominent member of a growing list of freshman stallions in California with winners from their first crops this year. In recent weeks, other California-based freshman stallions with winners included Comic Strip and Mud Route, who stand at Special T Thoroughbreds in Temecula; Perfect Mandate, who stands at Old English Rancho in Sanger; and Emerald Cr?me, who stands at Hedrick Ranch.

Free House, who stands at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, was one of the most prominent racehorses to enter stud in 2000. In a four-season career, he won 9 of 22 starts and earned $3,178,971.

Free House, excelled in major stakes from 1 1/8 miles and beyond, which gives trainer Paco Gonzalez confidence that Head of the House will improve with distance. "It looks like he wants to go on," Gonzalez said.

Wednesday's race was at 5 1/2 furlongs. Making his second start, Head of the House challenged pacesetter Levee Town from the start, took the lead near the eighth pole, and won by three-quarters of a length in 1:04.43.

In his debut on June 1 over five furlongs, Head of the House rallied from fourth to finish third by a length. Gonzalez blamed the loss on inexperience.

"The first time he was very green," Gonzalez said. "The dirt hit him in the face and he was ducking around."

Gonzalez knows what to expect from Free House's foals. He trained the sire for breeders John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery. Toffan is the sole owner of Head of the House.

Free House raced from 2 until midway through his 5-year-old season and won a stakes in each campaign. Among the highlights were victories the 1996 Norfolk Stakes at 2, the Santa Anita Derby the following year, the Pacific Classic in 1998, and the Santa Anita Handicap in 1999.

In addition, Free House was second in the 1997 Preakness Stakes to Silver Charm and third in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Overall, he won eight stakes and was named statebred champion in 1997 and 1998. He is fifth on the all-time California-bred earnings list.

In a way, Head of the House is already ahead of his sire. Free House did not win a maiden race until the Fairplex Park meeting in September 1996.

Gonzalez said he has six 2-year-olds by Free House.

Head of the House, who was bred by Ron Stolich and Eddie Tannenbaum, is out of Stardust Dreams, an Al Nasr mare who was winless on the racetrack but has produced four winners.

Toffan purchased Head of the House last fall for $35,000 at the Barretts October yearling sale.

Through Thursday, Free House was second on the earnings list of freshman stallions based in California, trailing Perfect Mandate, $46,420 to $40,739. By Gone West, Perfect Mandate stands for $1,500. He has had two winners from his first three starters.

Mud Route has had one winner, while Comic Strip has had two starters and one winner.

Another promising first-year stallion in California is Event of the Year, a millionaire on the racetrack who won the 1998 Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park and the 1999 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita.

Event of the Year stands at Golden Eagle Farm. Although he won twice at six furlongs in his career, all of his important wins came around two turns, which is why many of his foals have yet to start.

Event of the Year has had a few starters, but no winners.