01/08/2004 12:00AM

The colder the better for Lyracist


Lyracist is one horse who seems to run best when the temperature takes a sharp dip. A forecast that calls for temperatures below freezing and possible snow showers for Saturday ought to suit Lyracist just fine when he faces seven older horses in the $75,000 Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park.

A winner of 11 lifetime races and nearly $500,000, the 8-year-old Lyracist has excelled at Laurel during late fall and winter. Last year, for example, Lyracist won a high-priced optional claimer and missed by a nose in a stakes, both at 1 1/8 miles. After finishing fourth or worse in three of his four starts during the spring and summer, Lyracist returned from a four-month layoff to win an optional claiming route at Laurel in late November.

One of the few times Lyracist didn't run well during winter came in last year's Native Dancer. Though he was beaten less than two lengths, Lyracist bothered another horse and was disqualified from fifth to sixth. He may have needed that race, his first start in five months.

This year Lyracist makes the second start of his form cycle, and he may be better conditioned to handle the nine furlongs of the Native Dancer this time.

Acrolect and Last Intention appear to be Lyracist's chief rivals. Acrolect, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Michael Dickinson, comes off a win in a seven-furlong stakes restricted to statebreds on Dec. 20. He showed the ability to handle 1 1/8 miles last summer when he just missed by a neck in the Jennings Handicap at Pimlico.

Last Intention, part of an entry for owner Michael Gill and trainer Mark Shuman, has won three of his last four starts, and is 2 for 2 at Laurel, including a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure in the Hail Emperor in mid-November. He regressed badly off that effort, however, in a 1 1/4-mile handicap in New York Dec. 10.

Hampshire moves to Maryland

Joe Hampshire, New England's top rider for the last six years, has joined the Maryland jockey colony after short stints at Aqueduct and Mountaineer this winter. Hampshire, 40, had five mounts Wednesday at Laurel.

Ten trainers from New England, led by Ron Dandy, have come south for the winter as well as jockeys Dyn Panell and Peter Sosa Jr.

"Ron Dandy is my best friend and we have been tearing it up in New England the last six years," said Hampshire, who needs five wins to reach 3,000 for his career. "He kept calling me and saying, 'Come to Maryland.' Another great friend of mine is my former agent John Burke, who is now a steward here in Maryland. Over the holidays he stopped by my house and asked me to come to Maryland. After a long discussion with my wife I decided to do it."

Hampshire's last visit to Maryland was in the late 1980's when he rode Fire Plug, a popular gelding who finished first or second in 49 of his 54 starts. Half of Fire Plug's 28 victories were in stakes, including the Maryland Breeders' Cup on Preakness Day 1988.

* A $75,000 bonus from the Breeders' Cup Fund has boosted the purse of the Feb. 14 John B. Campbell Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile race for older horses, to $150,000.