08/02/2004 11:00PM

Biancone: Lion Heart will perform better in Haskell

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OCEANPORT, N. J. - Was it a perfect prep or an unsteady stepping-stone?

Lion Heart was a 1-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Long Branch in what was supposed to be an easy lead-in to Sunday's Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park. But he was all out to win the race after a stretch-long duel with former claimer My Snookie's Boy, and the effort raised some questions regarding his ability to handle the likes of Rock Hard Ten in the $1 million Haskell. Trainer Patrick Biancone, however, has some ready answers.

"I took a little gamble with him and worked him only four times leading up to that race," he said. "I didn't want him dead-fit for the Long Branch and then have him go down in the Haskell. It was worth it, because he won by a head. If he had lost by a nose . . ."

My Snookie's Boy, who turned in a bullet work on Tuesday, will try Lion Heart once again in the Haskell, though Biancone doesn't seem to expect him to be the main threat to Lion Heart this time around.

"That's what happens when you run in a prep race to prepare for another race - inferior horses run their best races," he said. "I'm happy that he made us run."

With all due respect to My Snookie's Boy, the horse Lion Heart needs to beat is Rock Hard Ten, who comes off a career-best effort in the Grade 2 Swaps. He will likely spot position to Lion Heart in the early stages, however, and given the speed-favoring nature of this strip that is no small edge, especially if Lion Heart moves forward, as his trainer expects.

"He will dramatically improve in the Haskell," said Biancone. "We're looking forward to a Grade 1 performance in the Grade 1 race."

A California shipper, Wimplestilt-skin, is expected for the Haskell, and his presence will greatly affect the running of the 1 1/8-mile race. Wimplestiltskin has yet to run quickly enough to suggest he can win the race, but he is quick enough to pester Lion Heart in the early stages and can deny him an easy lead. He worked a half-mile in 48.20 seconds at Del Mar on Tuesday and was scheduled to arrive at Monmouth on Wednesday.

Trainer Nick Zito said that Pie's Prospect, most recently third in the Grade 3 Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park, might join stablemate Royal Assault in the Haskell starting gate, bumping the prospective field up to six.

Other possible runners are Tap Day, Swingforthefences, and Courageous Act are considered possible runners.