08/26/2004 12:00AM

Soaring Free looks flawless


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Soaring Free, who shattered the North American record for seven furlongs on the grass in his last start, will be favored in Saturday's $173,400 Play the King Handicap at Woodbine.

The Grade 3, seven-furlong turf sprint, which is a prep for the Grade 1 Atto Mile on Sept. 19, has lured a field of 12, including track- record holder Chris's Bad Boy.

took the 2003 Play the King, before ending up a close second to Touch of the Blues in the Atto. After finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, he was voted the Sovereign Award as Canada's champion sprinter.

This year, Soaring Free has won each of his four turf outings, including two Grade 3 stakes, the Highlander and the Shakertown at Keeneland.

Most recently, in the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes, Soaring Free ran seven-eighths in a sizzling 1:19.38, bettering the previous North American record of 1:19.88 set by Officialpermission at Belmont Park in 2002. Woodbine's old record of 1:20.20 was established by Wild Zone in 1995.

Trainer Mark Frostad felt the circumstances were perfect for Soaring Free to run lights-out in the OJC.

"I think the turf had a good bounce to it at that point, so the conditions were ideal," Frostad said. "He was going pretty fast, but he did it pretty easily."

Todd Kabel will ride Soaring Free, the 126-pound highweight.

Chris's Bad Boy, Woodbine's six-furlong record holder on the main track, broke the 6 1/2-furlong turf course record here Aug. 7, when he won the allowance prep for the Play the King in 1:14.27.

"I was really happy with the prep," said Vito Armata, who trains Chris's Bad Boy. "He looked like he was beaten, and he just came back on to win."

A 7-year-old with $684,308 in earnings, Chris's Bad Boy has won 8 of 13 starts since Armata claimed him for $47,500 in the spring of 2003.

Armata said he isn't enthused about facing Soaring Free, but claims to have no other options for Chris's Bad Boy at this time.

Cat Genius, based at Saratoga with trainer Ken McPeek, is trying the grass for the first time, without a noteworthy turf pedigree.

A confirmed front-runner, Cat Genius earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 111 in back-to-back runner-up placings in six-furlong stakes in June and July.

Lightly raced Super Case could be the sleeper. He pressed Soaring Free on the lead in the OJC, before ending up second in his stakes debut.