LAUREL -- Fly So Free is beginning to draw the respect from rival trainers that a champion should.
"He was very impressive in the Hutcheson," said Frank Brothers. went by those horses like a champion."
Last year's top 2-year-old and early Kentucky Derby favorite will be making his second start of the year in the $100,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., tomorrow. He won the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes in his 1991 debut.
The 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth will be simulcast as the final event on a 12-race card at Laurel Race Course and inter-track partner Pimlico.
Brothers trains Hansel, one of nine 3-year-olds entered against Fly So Free. The Gulfstream oddsmaker listed Fly So Free as a 3-1 morning-line choice, but the colt figures to be a much shorter price when the horses reach the post.
Hansel (5-1) won his most recent start, but it came last September in the rich Arlington-Washington Futurity. He missed the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (won by Fly So Free) because of a wrenched front ankle.
"I would have preferred a light spot to get him started, but time-wise, this is the logical spot," said Brothers. "It won't be the end of the world if he doesn't win. I'll be very happy if he gives a good account of himself."
Fly So Free drew the No. 1 post, and Hansel has No. 2. Other contenders include Subordinated Deb (No. 6, 4-1) and Oregon (No. 10, 6-1).
NOTES: By late yesterday, tickets at $50 each were still available for tonight's Federico Tesio awards dinner at Martin's West. Among the honorees are artist Pierre "Peb" Bellocq, trainer Carlos Garcia, racing writer Andrew Beyer and sportscaster Charlie Eckman. . . . Horses competing in the Fountain of Youth have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby 11 times. The race is the final Gulfstream prep before the $500,000 Florida Derby March 16. . . . Wide Country is the top name in tomorrow's $75,000 Jameela Stakes for Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies at Laurel. The filly is a likely odds-on favorite to notch her fourth straight stakes victory over four others, including Ritchie Trail, to be ridden by Donnie Miller. . . . The Jameela will mark the final ride for Miller as a Maryland regular. Last week, he announced that he is moving to Northern California. . . . Retirement was short for Ronnie Franklin, who told track officials yesterday he is returning to the saddle when the Pimlico meeting opens March 14. . . . Valay Maid, Maryland's top 3-year-old filly last year, is about a month away from her 1991 debut, said Garcia.