06/24/2004 11:00PM

Soaring Free in Highland off strong win

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Soaring Free began his march to prominence on Queen's Plate Day last year, becoming a stakes winner in the Grade 2 Nearctic over six furlongs on the turf.

The Nearctic was repositioned on the stakes schedule this year and will be run on Oct. 24.

But Soaring Free has a very acceptable Plate Day alternative in the Grade 3, $219,000 Highlander Handicap, which basically traded places with the Nearctic and was switched from dirt to turf this season.

The Highlander is the fourth race and the first leg of the pick six. The other supporting stakes on Sunday's Queen's Plate program, the $108,000 Charlie Barley, is the sixth race.

Soaring Free comes into the Highlander off an emphatic win in the allowance prep run at the same six-furlong turf trip as the Highlander here on June 6.

That win was the second of Soaring Free's current campaign, which began at Keeneland with a victory in the Grade 3 Shakertown over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf but continued with a disappointing eighth-place finish on the main track in the Maryland Budweiser Breeders' Cup.

"We had to know if we had an option, for the [Breeders' Cup] Mile," said Mark Frostad, who watched Soaring Free finish a good fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita last year but thinks that the horse is best at one-turn turf races.

"It appears that we don't, but it may be that he just didn't like the track there [at Pimlico]."

Frostad had been planning to send Soaring Free to England for last Saturday's Grade 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Ascot, but the gelding's poor effort at Pimlico threw his schedule out of whack.

On Sunday, Soaring Free looms an odds-on choice in a field of seven as he breaks from post 1 under high weight of 123 pounds and regular rider Todd Kabel.

My Lucky Strike, the second-place finisher in the prep, will be back for another go at Soaring Free.

Stewart Elliott, in town to ride Long Pond in the Queen's Plate, has picked up the mount on My Lucky Strike.

Owned by Billy Wine and trained by John Cirillo, My Lucky Strike rallied strongly there while making his first start of the season and stands the best chance of ambushing the favorite.

Bachelor Blues could not find a prep

Bachelor Blues, winner of the Grade 2 Summer Stakes over one mile of turf here last September, will be looking to get back on target when he competes over that distance and surface in the Charlie Barley.

The Charlie Barley, an open race for 3-year-olds, attracted eight entrants.

Bachelor Blues is a Kentucky-bred owned by Bill Schettine and trained by Josie Carroll, who has been willing but not able to get Bachelor Blues to the post here this spring.

"I entered him for one race and the race didn't go; it was straight 3-year-olds," said Carroll. "I entered him 3-and-up, and he ended up on the 'also,'

"It's been very, very frustrating. He's doing really well; I just would have liked to have had a race under his belt before the stake."

Bachelor Blues will be making his first start since April 15, when he opened up through some quick fractions before faltering to finish fifth in Keeneland's Forerunner over 1 1/8 miles of turf.

Robert Landry will ride Bachelor Blues, the 120-pound highweight.

The top Canadian-bred candidate in the Charlie Barley is Lone Arrow, who is coming off a second-place finish behind Queen's Plate contestant Silver Ticket in a first-level allowance race over one mile of turf here June 5.

"He was trying, closing," said Roger Attfield, trainer of Silver Ticket and a co-owner along with Bill Werner. "The other horse was just too much for him."

Richard Dos Ramos retains the mount on Lone Arrow, a son of Queen's Plate winner Archers Bay.

Burst of Fire, who came up short on the Queen's Plate trail, makes his turf debut for Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad and could show dramatic improvement on the new surface.

The Charlie Barley is one of four superfecta races on the program.