01/19/2002 1:00AM

Violette hasn't given up


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Free of Love, a source of both elation and frustration for trainer Rick Violette during his 3-year-old campaign, will look for a bit of a confidence boost when he takes on third-level optional claiming allowance company in Monday's $38,000 feature at Gulfstream Park.

Free of Love moved to the upper echelon of the 3-year-old division last summer by finishing second in Saratoga's Grade 1 Jim Dandy Stakes.

A son of Meadow Flight, Free of Love returned three weeks later to run fifth behind Eclipse Award winner Point Given after contesting the early pace in the Travers, but he closed out the season on a down note, losing his final three starts against softer competition, including an allowance race at Aqueduct in his 2001 finale.

"I was disappointed he didn't win his last start, but he really didn't run a bad race," said Violette. "The horse that beat him, Tempest Fugit, is a nice horse who got loose on the lead and came back to run Saturday in the Aqueduct Handicap." Tempest Fugit ran third in the Aqueduct.

"We've really hooked some nice horses since the Jim Dandy," said Violette. "In fact I didn't think he ran badly in the Travers. He picked up 12 pounds off the Jim Dandy, contested the pace and, was not disgraced by a horse who is likely to wind up Horse of the Year."

Free of Love, who posted one of his three victories last season over this track, has trained well since returning to south Florida earlier this winter.

"He's really doing well since coming down," said Violette. "He worked a mile in 1:42 a couple of weeks ago and came back with a fast half five days later," referring to a bullet workout in 47.60 seconds.

"The goal now is to establish where he fits against older horses. If he were to run huge on Monday I'd consider taking a shot in the Donn."

Free of Love will be ridden for the first time in Monday's feature by Rene Douglas and figures to sit a nice trip stalking the likely pace of Go to Harvard and Gold Ballad.

Go to Harvard was a wire-to-wire 8 3/4-length winner against $50,000 claiming company here earlier in the meeting, while Gold Ballad is coming off a second-place finish behind Built Up after contesting the early running of the Tours Big Red Stakes at Calder.

The hottest horse in the field is Big Sid's Party, who has fashioned a three-race win streak against lesser competition.

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