07/16/2001 12:00AM

I'm Free adds new dimension


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - I'm Free proved a couple of things with his game victory against El Nino Mi Amor in Sunday's running of the $37,829 Jim Coleman Province Stakes.

He proved that he was capable of relaxing behind another horse, which he did nicely for the first half mile, behind Navigator's Castle. He also showed that he is capable of coping with extremely fast fractions going a distance. All of which means that he is capable of dominating the 3-year-old division the way King Jeremy did last year. The Jim Coleman Province was also a family affair, trainers Henry Miller Jr. and Sr. finishing first and second.

While I'm Free's winning margin was only a head, it was the way he won that was so impressive. With Navigator's Castle winging it up front through a first half mile in 46.72 seconds over a sloppy track that surprisingly didn't favor speed throughout the day, jockey Mark Patzer had I'm Free in hand sitting about a length behind. Patzer, who appeared to be in complete control of the situation, was forced to move sooner than he wanted when Irish Pleasure rushed up on his outside heading down the backstretch. Patzler let out a notch and just like that I'm Free was in front. After easily repulsing Irish Pleasure's bid, he started to draw away from the rest of the field on the stretch turn.

Turning for home there was only one horse making a run at him and for I'm Free's trainer Henry Miller Jr., mixed emotions set in. The one making up ground was his father's horse, El Nino Mi Amor, who had stayed far back from the activities up front, was gaining with every stride. At the sixteenth pole it appeared that he would get past I'm Free.

"Yes, I knew it was dad's horse coming at him," Henry Jr. said. "And while it would have been nice to see dad win his first stakes, I was pretty happy with the outcome, especially after he [I'm Free] went so fast early. He's a pretty special horse to be able to do that."

"I though I had him," said Sam Krasner, who was aboard El Nino Mi Amor for the first time. "But the other horse dug in and had enough left to hold us off."

El Nino Mi Amor was the longest shot on the board and Krasner was pleasantly surprised with the effort. "I knew that he couldn't keep up to those other horses early, and was just hoping that he would be able to pass a few horses and pick up a decent check. But when they were going so fast early, I thought we might get more."

Henry Miller Sr. was walking on air after the race. Miller has never won a stakes race, and while he was disappointed in finishing second he was pleased about who had beaten him. "Henry has a pretty nice horse over there," he said. "I was pretty happy to see the fractions that they were setting, and when my horse started to move I though that we might be able to get him."

Final time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:45.93. I'm Free paid $3.30 to win. The Miller exacta paid $40.80 but neither father nor son had it. "I bet the tri and didn't have Irish Pleasure in my ticket," said Henry Sr. "I don't want to jinx him, so I don't bet on I'm Free," said Henry Jr.

Trainer Dave Forster was happy to see Grooms Derby head to Seattle to run against the best fillies and mares in the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap at Emerald Downs on Sunday. That left Make Contact an big favorite to win the 1 1/8-mile Sun Handicap at Hastings Park Saturday - and she didn't disappoint, cruising to a 2 1/4-length victory over second-choice Fabulous Flight and paying $3.50. Forster also won the Boeing, with last year's Washington Breeders' Cup Oaks winner, Crossatyourownrisk.