02/10/2004 1:00AM

High-priced and precocious

Read the Footnotes, who is notoriously high strung, rears up at Palm Meadows while being held by trainer Rick Violette.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Rick Violette walked over to the stall of Read the Footnotes, but there was caution in his voice. "Somebody," he warned, "is going to donate a finger to him one of these days." As if on cue, Read the Footnotes lashed out toward his trainer as if he were performing a scene in "Silence of the Lambs."

On Saturday, the high-strung colt will try to take a big bite out of Saturday's $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, his first step this year toward the Kentucky Derby.

Read the Footnotes heads into the new year after establishing himself as one of the nation's leading 2-year-olds of 2003. He won four times in five starts last year, including a powerful, season-ending victory in Aqueduct's Remsen Stakes on Nov. 29. He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 105, and the form of that race has held up. Master David, who finished nearly four lengths behind Read the Footnotes, just last weekend beat Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Action This Day, the 2-year-old champ, in Santa Anita's Sham Stakes.

The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, is bringing out several of the better 3-year-olds based in Florida this winter. Read the Footnotes, who is based at Palm Meadows, should vie with Holy Bull Stakes winner Second of June for favoritism.

Read the Footnotes was a precocious, high-priced sales horse who has proven to be more than a one-dimensional sprinter. He is by the wickedly fast Smoke Glacken, so the conventional wisdom would hold that Read the Footnotes should be a sprinter. But he has the body type of a horse who can handle a distance. Rather than the blocky build of a sprinter, he has long legs, and a lengthy torso.

"He's not your typical Smoke Glacken," Violette said at his barn at Palm Meadows. "But I don't know what the typical Smoke Glacken is, because they come in all shapes and sizes. He has plenty of stamina on his female side."

His speed, though, is what initially attracted Violette to Read the Footnotes at a 2-year-old-in-training sale at Timonium in Maryland the day after the Preakness Stakes last May. There was a buzz about the colt. He had trained swiftly in a pre-sale workout, and he is a New York-bred, which was on top of the minds of salesgoers following Funny Cide's success in last year's Derby and Preakness.

"He breezed stupid fast at the sale," Violette said in a tone of reverence, not condescension. When the bay colt, who has a triangular-shaped star on his forehead, went into the sales ring, Violette was prepared to go as high as $250,000 on behalf of owner Seth Klarman.

"I knew going in he wasn't going to be cheap," Violette said. "Seth and I had talked. He was probably more aggressive than I was. I wanted to go to $150,000. He said he thought the colt would go for $250,000, but that I could go to $300,000 if I wanted."

The bidding was lively. Violette bid $280,000, was topped at $290,000, then went in again at $300,000. Another bid came in at $310,000. Violette bid $320,000. "That was my last bid," he said. "I couldn't go to $350,000." He didn't need to. The $320,000 bid was knocked down by the auctioneer as the winner.

"I made the one extra bid because I knew Seth would be disappointed if the colt was sold for within the range of what we talked about and we didn't get him. It's a lot of money for a horse. It's a lot of money for anything," said Violette, who only once before had bought a horse for more than $300,000, and never has bought a horse for more than $400,000. "I don't take it lightly."

It has proven money well spent by Klarman, who races as Klaravich Stables and is the president of Baupost Group, an investment firm. Read the Footnotes won his debut at Saratoga in August, then took an allowance race at Belmont Park before heading into stakes company. He finished sixth in Belmont's Champagne Stakes when he displaced his palate. He came back and won the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct, then stretched out around two turns and romped in the Remsen.

Jerry Bailey, who has won all three times he has ridden Read the Footnotes, including the Remsen and Nashua, is back aboard on Saturday.

Violette, 51, has one of his strongest barns ever. He has 18 runners at Palm Meadows - including the multiple stakes-winning turf horse Man from Wicklow, 2003 Illinois Derby runner-up Fund of Funds, and the promising 3-year-old colt Swingforthefences - plus another 20 horses in New York.

"That's a nice number for me," he said.

It's enough to keep his hands full. Now, he just has to worry about keeping his fingers.