10/09/2002 12:00AM

Soaring Free gets to face age-mates

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the days get shorter, so do the opportunities for 3-year-olds to run against their own kind.

Last-chance races such as the Super Derby and Indiana Derby have already been run, and although the Hollywood Derby and a few others still remain on the 2002 calendar, the trend at this time of year is for racing secretaries to assimilate their 3-year-olds of every category into the ranks of older horses.

Occasionally, however, a race restricted to 3-year-olds pops up, and trainers tend to respond. Trainer Mark Frostad, for example, will send Soaring Free into stakes company for the first time when he faces nine other 3-year-olds Friday in the $75,000 Perryville Stakes at Keeneland.

"It was either run in a two-other-than allowance against older horses, or stick with 3-year-olds," said Frostad, who trains Soaring Free for the Canadian powerhouse stable Sam-Son Farm. "I know this will be a tough race, but we chose to stay with 3-year-olds. It is probably the last shot, after all."

Unlike some of his more seasoned rivals in the Perryville, Soaring Free has run only four times, resulting in two wins and two seconds.

"He's short on experience, but he's coming along very nicely," said Frostad.

The probable favorites in the Perryville are Danthebluegrassman, Sky Terrace, and Najran.

Danthebluegrassman, trained by Bob Baffert, will be looking to rebound off two poor efforts after having won the Northern Dancer at Churchill Downs in June. Danthebluegrassman is coupled in the wagering with Ecstatic.

Sky Terrace also has struggled lately, finishing seventh in the Kentucky Cup Sprint off an eight-week layoff for Vickie Foley. He won the Derby Trial in May.

Najran has never run in a stakes but was highly impressive winning back-to-back allowance races at Saratoga. Nick Zito has obtained the services of leading rider Pat Day for Najran's stakes debut.

Other starters in the Perryville, which will be run at the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet, are Flying Free, Richest Half, Halo's Tiger, Shah Jehan, and Premier Performer.

One of the handful of sleepers is Premier Performer, the Walt Bindner-trained colt who ran creditably when second behind Day Trader last month in the Kentucky Cup Sprint. Day Trader wheeled back last weekend and finished second to Xtra Heat in the Phoenix Stakes.

The Perryville highlights a Friday card that also includes two allowance races. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

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