08/17/2003 11:00PM

Soaring Free in career form


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Soaring Free's future was permanently altered last fall, when he was gelded the day after his final start of the season.

But for performance, at least, the change has been for the better as Soaring Free hasn't lost a race this season and is headed to the Sept. 14 Atto Mile after recording his third straight turf stakes score here in last Saturday's seven-furlong Play the King.

"We always loved him," said Mark Frostad, who trains Soaring Free for Sam-Son Farm. "He had a lot of talent. He was just a bit of a squirrel when he was a colt."

Soaring Free's fate was sealed following an allowance race here Nov. 7, when he finished second but was disqualified and placed sixth.

"He jumped on a horse coming out of the gate," Frostad said. "Then, he wouldn't go by the winner. He cruised up to him and then just hung there, and laid all over him."

Soaring Free has been a model citizen this year, beginning with back-to-back victories on the main track prior to going on his stakes tear under regular rider Todd Kabel.

The $165,000 Play the King is the major local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Atto Mile, where Soaring Free will be attempting to win his longest turf race to date.

"He'll have no problem getting the distance," Frostad said. "He'll rate, especially if there's real speed out there winging it. He'll sit behind them."

Drysdale back again, with duo

Sam-Son and Frostad will be seeking their second victories in the Atto Mile, having watched Quiet Resolve finish second but wind up with the top prize upon the disqualification of Hawksley Hill here in 1999.

California-based Neil Drysdale, who trained Hawksley Hill, won the 1998 renewal with Labeeb and plans to be represented for the sixth straight year, with both Touch of the Blues and Sarafan slated to make the trip east.

Touch of the Blues will be making his second Atto Mile appearance after finishing a troubled fifth, beaten just two lengths by the victorious Good Journey, here last fall.

Touch of the Blues, a 6-year-old owned by Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm, ended an eight-race winless drought in his last start Aug. 2, capturing Del Mar's $76,475 Wickerr Handicap by a nose while completing one mile on turf in a course-record 1:32.22.

Sarafan, winner of the Grade 1 Eddie Read at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Del Mar last July and second when beaten a nose in last November's Japan Cup, has seen action just once this year, finishing third in a classified turf allowance race at Hollywood Park May 21.

Drysdale said Sarafan would have his prep for the Atto Mile in Saturday's $75,000 Harry F. Brubaker Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile overnight stakes race at Del Mar.

More Sam-Son stakes winners

Earlier on Saturday's card, Puffer became another Sam-Son Farm runner to win a stakes when he captured the $108,000 With Approval.

In his six previous starts, Puffer had won once and lost the other five races by an aggregate total of just over 1 1/2 lengths. While Puffer seemed destined for another narrow defeat in the With Approval, Kabel was able to urge him home for a half-length victory.

"Todd had to take a real hold of him to guzzle him back a bit," Frostad said. "He sort of gets bored with it once he gets to the lead."

Despite Puffer's With Approval success, Frostad still sees Puffer as a work in progress.

"He's coming along real well," Frostad said. "He's a nice horse, but he's probably going back to allowance racing, at this point."

The Sam-Son, Frostad, and Kabel show continued here Sunday when Seeking the Ring, a 3-year-old filly, proved best in the $105,000 Northernette at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

Seeking the Ring had earned her first stakes win when dead-heating with Brattothecore, who was among her victims Sunday, in the 1 1/16-mile Bison City at Fort Erie July 1. But, she came into the Northernette following a seventh-place finish as the favorite in the Wonder Where, which was run at 1 1/4 miles over good turf here Aug. 4.

Seeking the Ring was Kabel's 20th stakes winner of the meet, making him the runaway leader in that category, and the seventh of the session for Frostad and Sam-Son.

Estevan destroys maiden field

Kabel also rode a very promising prospect here Saturday in Estevan, a 2-year-old colt who won a six-furlong maiden special weight race by 24 1/4 lengths.

Estevan, a Kentucky-bred by Grand Slam out of the Storm Cat mare Sandy's Storm, was purchased for $525,000 at Keeneland this April and was making his second start for owners Jim and Alice Sapara and trainer Josie Carroll.

In his first outing, at five furlongs here July 27, Estevan was the 1-2 choice following a strong series of workouts but finished sixth, beaten 7 1/4 lengths.

"He didn't run his race, very unexpectedly," Carroll said. "He had schooled well in the paddock, but something really shook him up and he was right out of sorts."

Several interim schooling sessions, plus another solid drill, followed and Estevan obviously learned his lessons well as he zipped through fractions of 22.34 seconds, 45.71, and 58.19 en route to completing six furlongs in 1:11.25. He received a 92 Beyer Speed Figure.

While Carroll will be conferring with the Saparas before deciding on the next step for Estevan, she believes the colt will relish a chance to stretch out.

"I think that's what he wants to do," Carroll said. "When we purchased him, we were looking for a horse that would cover some ground."