08/16/2001 11:00PM

Miller figures I'm Free can win his sprint tightener

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It was a surprise to see I'm Free show up among the horses entered in the 6 1/2-furlong Mr. Prime Minister Stakes this Sunday. After his third straight win at a middle distance in the Stallion Stakes Aug, 5, his trainer, Henry Miller Jr., said that I'm Free's next start would be in the $125,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby on Sept. 9. I'm Free has tremendous speed, and Miller has done a great job of teaching the good looking 3-year-old gelding to rate, so it seems like an odd move to shorten him up right before he goes to Emerald to try nine furlongs for the first time.

"He just won't put anything into his works," said Miller. "I didn't want to go down there with 35 days between races and have to try and keep him fit with works alone. Instead of working him three or four times this will tighten him right up and I'll probably give him a good six-furlong prep about a week before the race down there."

I'm Free has dominated the local 3-year-olds and on paper looks like a standout in Sunday's race. But how low a price are you willing to accept if Miller is just looking at the race as a prep before he gets serious with the Emerald and B.C. Derbies approaching? There's also plenty of speed in the field and with I'm Free coming off longer races, will he be sharp enough?

"He'll run his race," said Miller. "We're not looking at it as just a prep, we're hoping to win." Miller also reported that he would let I'm Free's jockey, Mark Patzer, make the call on what strategy they would use in the Mr. Prime Minister. "He's done a pretty good job so far and I'm not about to start telling him how to ride him now."

Potato Lad, who was one of the most impressive Nursery Course winners back in May, will be making his first start around two turns in the New Westminster Stakes on Sunday. He was very sharp in his final work, six furlongs in 1:12.60 last Monday, and his trainer, Carl Lausten, is hopeful that he can overcome some of the setbacks he has had since his debut.

"He's had some muscle problems in his back but nothing serious," said Lausten. "His legs are cold as ice and there isn't any shin problems to worry about." Lausten was pleased with his work but wasn't sure how he would run on Sunday. "He showed that he can run with his Nursery Course race, but 3 1/2 furlongs doesn't tell you much except that he's a little fast. We have no idea what his running style will be going 6 1/2 furlongs. With his speed, he shouldn't be too far out of it, though. We've got our fingers crossed."

Another horse in the New Westminster who has had an assortment of 2-year-old infirmities is Full Gainer, who rallied for a smart win over straight maidens in his debut July 28. "He has a lot of ability, but he's been fighting shins all along," said Jordan. "He's been training all along since his race but we haven't worked him hoping that his shins would hold together. He'll get his workout on Sunday."

Jordan also reported that Dancewithavictor is scheduled to make his return to racing in the PNE Speed Handicap next Sunday. Dancewithavictor was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old but hasn't been to the races since winning the 1999 B.C. Nursery. Jordan sent him out for a five-furlong work in 59.60 seconds Aug. 12 and is happy with his progress.

"I don't really want to start him in a stakes but there's nowhere else to run him," he said. Dancewithavictor was heading into the 1999 Futurity as the odds-on favorite when he injured his cannon bone in his stall during a fireworks celebration at the PNE which is located right next to Jordan's stalls. Dancewithavictor's owner, Paul Minichiello, is pursuing legal action against the PNE.