01/29/2004 12:00AM

Freedom Fair on rapid rise

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Just a week ago Freedom Fair was an unstarted 3-year-old, but on Saturday he will be one of the favorites in the $10,000 Flying Lark Stakes at six furlongs at Portland Meadows.

The transformation took only one race to accomplish. Freedom Fair, an Honour and Glory colt out of Pretty Keane, by Deputy Minister, debuted in a maiden special weight race that began last Saturday's card. After breaking slowly from the rail post, Freedom Fair rushed up along the inside to grab the early lead, which is normally a recipe for a late fade, especially for a first-time starter. Instead, Freedom Fair opened three lengths on the turn and held steady to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:07.80 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

"I really hated drawing the 1 hole, because I knew he'd break slowly," said Sam Dronen, Freedom Fair's trainer. "He shied away from the other horses, and it probably cost him at least four lengths. I was pretty impressed that he was still able to win.

"I've always been high on this horse," he added. "He worked a half-mile in 48.20 back in November. That's really flying over this track, but he did it without drawing a deep breath."

Freedom Fair's breeders and owners - a partnership consisting of James and Jane Sassalos and Rolling Hills Thoroughbreds - have been high on their horse as well, and for good reason. His millionaire sire, Honour and Glory, won the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at a mile, and Honour and Glory's first four crops to race have earned more than $12 million. Freedom Fair's dam has dropped five winners from six foals to race, including Solar Deputy, a stakes winner of 4 of 10 races and nearly $200,000.

Freedom Fair, a California-bred, was entered in the Barretts yearling sale in October 2002 and drew a bid of $57,000, then he was entered back in the Barretts 2-year-olds in training sale in March of last year, drawing a bid of $47,000. On both occasions, he failed to attain his reserve.

"They obviously had a lot of faith in him to buy him back for that kind of money, but I don't blame them," Dronen said. "He is cut out to be a nice horse."

Houston Shuffle returning

The Flying Lark will see the return to Portland Meadows of Houston Shuffle, who won his first three starts here, including a pair of sprint stakes, before faltering to finish a distant fourth in the one-mile Oregon Futurity in December. Trainer Jonathan Nance, who owns Houston Shuffle in partnership with Allen Floyd, then sent the speedy gelding to Golden Gate, where he ran fifth for a $20,000 claiming price and second for $8,000 in a pair of starts at six furlongs earlier this month.

"It was a tough decision whether to bring him back up here," Nance said. "This race will probably be his only chance to run here. After this one, the 3-year-olds will be going long, and he has already convinced me that he doesn't want to route. He does like this track, though, and he has proven that he fits in the sprint stakes here.

"I decided to go for it. I'll worry about what to do next with him when this race is over."

Runaway Briartic on hold

There was good news and bad news at trainer Delmer Webb's barn recently.

The good news was that Runaway Briartic, the undefeated 3-year-old who was so impressive winning the Columbia River Stakes here in November, is still on the grounds. Runaway Briartic, who races for Troy Lange and Dan Miller, was scheduled to ship to Turf Paradise along with stablemate Cee Cruiser late last month.

"The shipping arrangements were delayed, and by the time the van got here to pick them up, the owners had changed their minds," Webb said. "Cee Cruiser left, but Runaway Briartic stayed. I was very happy about that."

Runaway Briartic, however, will not be running in Saturday's Flying Lark. That's where the bad news comes in.

"His check ligament is bothering him," the trainer said. "He pulled up sore from a morning gallop, and I just stopped on him. He's better now, but I want to make sure he is 100 percent before I do anything more with him. I think he has a lot of potential, and I don't want to mess him up."