10/01/2001 12:00AM

Western Canada, you have a winner: Fancy As

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Fancy As left no doubt that he's the best 3-year-old in Western Canada with a decisive 3 1/2-length win over I'm Free in the $217,260 British Columbia Derby at Hastings Park Saturday. Under a well-timed ride by Richard Hamel, Fancy As took control from I'm Free at the top of the stretch and then drew off with authority to post an impressive win over one of the best fields seen here in recent years. I'm Free set moderate fractions of 23.15, 47.51, 1:12.79 and he looked like the winner when he opened up by a couple of lengths on the middle of the stretch turn, but he couldn't hold off Fancy As's furious stretch run.

Fancy As ($7.70) came into the race having won 11 times from 13 starts. Despite his accomplishments, he was still sent off as the second choice in the wagering behind I'm Free who had dominated the local 3-year-olds at Hastings Park this year.

"I figured that if I could keep him out of trouble that we would be laughing," said Hamel. "I had to steady him a little bit at the quarter pole but once he got going around those horses he just exploded. When he switched leads at the head of the lane he rebroke again. This horse will run all day, he's a monster."

"I was pretty sure that he was going to win today," said his trainer and part-owner Red Smith. "I never said anything to anybody, but I really believed the only way he could get beat was if he got into trouble. He had been training so well and it just looked like it should set up perfectly for him. I did get a little worried when he was trapped along the rail going down the backstretch and it looked like he was starting to back up. But Richard was just moving him off the rail so he wouldn't get stopped when he was ready to make his move."

The last Alberta-based horse to win the B.C. Derby was Pole Position who packed 130 pounds when it was run under handicap conditions in 1979. Pole Position also beat older horses to win the B.C. Premier's and Smith said that Fancy As will take the same path and remain here to make his next start in the Premier's Oct. 14. He figures to be a heavy favorite in the 1 3/8 miles race. His win in the derby brought his total earnings to $488,720, not bad for a horse that was purchased as a yearling for $3,200. Fancy As is owned by Smith, who races under Red Ron Farms and his wife Linda. Final time for the

1 1/8 miles over a fast track was 1:50.71.

Fancy As earned a lot of respect from the connections of the horses that finished behind him. "My horse ran his race," said Mark Patzer, who was aboard I'm Free. "The fractions weren't that fast and we just couldn't keep up to him in the stretch." Trainer Henry Miller Jr. was pleased with I'm Free's performance. "No complaints," he said. "He's had a great year and we were just outrun. He'll get a long rest now."

"I thought I was going to win the race," said Gerry Olguin, who flew in from Woodbine to ride third-place finisher Diglett. "But when we got up to Fancy As he just took off from us. That's one pretty nice horse."

Stage Classic beat Fancy As in the Manitoba Derby and his rider, Constant Montpellier, could have used a bumping incident at Saturday's start as an excuse for his fourth-place finish. "It didn't help but I don't think even with a good start we were going to beat that one today," he said. "The track was a bit harder than he's used to though, and he might not have cared for it."

*In the supporting feature Mark Patzer sent Shelby Madison ($13.10) right to the front and she never looked back on her way to a 3 1/4-length decision over 6-5 favorite Beautiful Stranger in the $43,337 Fantasy Stakes. "Give Mark a lot of the credit," said trainer Toni Jacobson Cloutier. "It was his idea to send her to the front because he thought that she would relax for him if she was on the lead." It was a family affair: Toni trains Shelby Madison for her parents Roy and Dixie Jacobson, who are also the breeders.