12/12/2003 12:00AM

Freefourinternet no lock in feature


NEW ORLEANS - Freefourinternet was supposed to be prepping for a stakes race in the Fair Grounds Friday feature, but he has pretty much found himself in one right now.

Freefourinternet has 11 rivals in Friday's ninth race, a money allowance with an $80,000 claiming option carded for about 1 1/16 miles on turf. The inner turf rail has been moved in, and after seeing nine-horse grass races during the meet's first 10 days, bettors finally have a truly full field to scrutinize.

And there is plenty of texture to this race. Freefourinternet is the marquee name, having this fall won the Grade 2 Kelso and finished sixth, beaten just over three lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Turf. But Freefourinternet is not a horse to be counted on to win races, even when he fits a spot, as he surely does on Friday, and there are plenty of alternatives to the likely favorite.

Chief among them are Skate Away and Great Bloom. Skate Away is coming back on short rest from a solid run last weekend in the Tenacious Handicap, and Great Bloom has been pointed to this race by trainer Leo Gabriel.

Great Bloom has been a pleasant surprise for Gabriel and his ownership group, Diamond Racing Inc. Purchased privately in September, Great Bloom had been struggling to find a place as a midlevel claimer on the New York circuit, but he quickly showed Gabriel talent as the trainer got to work with the horse in Chicago.

"Yeah, we liked him," Gabriel said earlier this month. "Why do you think we sent him down to Keeneland to run?"

At Keeneland, Great Bloom won a restricted turf race at 22-1, a performance he validated when he dead-heated for first with the graded stakes horse Hero's Tribute last month at Churchill Downs.

Considering that he probably prefers turf, Skate Away's third-place finish on the main track in the Tenacious is a strong sign of sharp form. His trainer, Jeff Trosclair, is not prone to rash moves, and it is fair to assume Skate Away bounced back quickly from his recent race.

But the path to the winner's circle still leads through Freefourinternet, who finished third in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup and third in the Explosive Bid over this course last season. He has been ably handled for much of this year by trainer Joan Scott, who has a knack for turf horses, and comes into this start with a solid workout pattern.