Free of Love Wins Fast-Paced Westchester Handicap

Anthony Aprilante and Ralph M. Evans' Free of Love earned a 1 1/4-length victory Wednesday in the $112,500 Westchester Handicap (gr. III), Belmont Park's opening day feature for horses three and older.

As King's Messenger set a blazing early pace, Florida-bred Free of Love raced in mid-pack before moving up to third following a half-mile in :44.58. Dayton Flyer assumed the lead from the tired pacesetter in the race's third quarter-mile, but was soon challenged by Free of Love, who was just a neck back after six furlongs run in 1:09.56. Free of Love edged clear in the stretch to notch the victory.

"It looked like there was legitimate speed in there," said winning jockey Jerry Bailey. "My horse's best races have come when he was up close to the pace, and that's where I wanted to be today. We were wide, but that's where I wanted to be because the inside was a little cuppier."

Trainer Richard Violette Jr. credited the addition of blinkers with helping the colt get involved in the race in the early stages.

"He turned into a grinder last year. Earlier in the year, he had good cruising speed, but from the fall on, he was one-paced," said the conditioner. "That was leading him to getting caught wide and in traffic. The blinkers helped him today. Jerry (Bailey) put him on the bridle five-eighths out and he stayed on the bridle the whole way. He made a long, sustained run today. We can toy around with the blinkers a little, too; maybe open them up a little."

The win was the second in four starts this year for the 4-year-old Meadow Flight colt who carried 114 pounds one mile in 1:35.56 on a fast track. Dayton Flyer was second, a length ahead of Country Be Gold. Seeking Daylight, Windsor Castle, Griffinite, Open Sesame, Comic Genius, and King's Messenger completed the order of finish.

Free of Love returned $6.80, $4.30, and $3.40. Dayton Flyer paid $6.50 and $5.80, and Country Be Gold returned $5.10. The winning exacta combination was worth $44.20.

Free of Love earned $67,500 for the win, his fifth in 21 career starts. Kathleen Kelley produced Free of Love from the Spanish Drums mare Love Spanish.

Violette said he was glad to get Free of Love a stakes win and may consider running Free of Love in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I).

"I was losing sleep over not having a stakes win with this horse; all of the horses he's been running with have been getting a stakes win," he said. "We're going to nominate to the Met Mile, but I'm not sure if he would run in it." (Chart, Equibase)