02/21/2007 1:00AM

Baron Von Tap one to beat - if he runs

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Howie Tesher admitted he was "hustled into" the third-level allowance that Baron Von Tap used to launch his 2007 campaign here on Feb. 2. Baron Von Tap went off as the 9-5 favorite despite Tesher's public confession, and finished a game second after setting a contested pace.

"Everyone accused me of lying, but honestly he was a short horse going into that race and still ran great," Tesher said.

He entered Baron Von Tap back under similar conditions under his own volition for Friday's $49,500 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park, and figures to have the horse to beat in the 1 1/16-mile turf event. If he starts.

"He couldn't be doing any better, and it's a good spot for him," said Tesher. "But the owner of this horse also has the mare and she'd like to get some black type on him, so we're also going to enter and take a look at the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Stakes on Saturday."

If Baron Von Tap runs, he figures to stand plenty of catching with a race under his belt and as the main speed in the field. Should he be scratched to run at Tampa, the complexion of the race changes and enhances the chances of both Salinja and Yankee Master.

Salinja overcame a rough trip to finish just a half-length behind Baron Von Tap while making his U.S. debut for trainer Graham Motion earlier this month, and he figures to move forward off the effort. It was the first for Salinja since late October at Newmarket. Jockey John Velazquez has taken the call.

Yankee Master returned to allowance company off a pair of disappointing stakes tries and beat slightly softer opposition in his local bow on Jan. 26. The win was Yankee Master's first since opening his career with a pair of easy victories at 2, including a five-length triumph in Keeneland's Bourbon Stakes.

Kent Desormeaux, who has had success on the turf course at this meet and rode Yankee Master in his recent win, retains the mount.

Trainer Michael Matz puts both blinkers and jockey Edgar Prado on the slow-starting Wood Be Willing for the first time. Wood Be Willing rallied from the back of the pack to finish fourth, another 1 1/2 lengths behind Salinja, on Feb. 2 and, with the equipment change, is another who could move forward.