04/07/2004 11:00PM

Defection leaves Lion Tamer as favorite


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The race must go on. No doubt the untimely defection of Congaree takes some luster off the 18th running of the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup, but the six older horses that remain in the seven-furlong race still should provide plenty of entertainment for the Blue Grass throng that will assemble Saturday at Keeneland.

Lion Tamer, a winner of both starts this year, probably has inherited the favorite's role in the $250,000 Commonwealth BC, a Grade 2 event carded as the fifth of 10 races. A 4-year-old colt by Will's Way, Lion Tamer has been terrific in sprints, having sandwiched five one-turn victories around a pair of losses in two-turn races last spring, when the colt had a brief but unsuccessful fling at making the spring classics.

Lion Tamer, trained by Todd Pletcher, will break from post 4 under Mike Smith in the Commonwealth BC. After getting more than nine months off following a 34-length defeat in the Blue Grass here last April, Lion Tamer won back-to-back races at Gulfstream Park during winter to restart his career.

His main opposition is likely to come from Private Horde, a multiple stakes winner whose most notable victory came last August in the Grade 2 Vanderbilt at Saratoga. Stabled at an obscure training center in a far southern region of Kentucky, Private Horde recently returned from a disappointing run in the Breeders' Cup Sprint with an easy allowance victory at Turfway Park. Because of a timer malfunction, there is no official time from that March 10 race.

Joe Cain, who trains Private Horde for breeder-owner Billy Tucker, said the 5-year-old horse has flourished since his comeback win.

"He's doing really good," said Cain. "I wouldn't have much cared if Congaree had stayed in, because you can't beat the good horses if they're not in there with you."

Congaree, a winner of more than $3.25 million, was declared Thursday after suffering a bout of colic the previous night.

Besides Lion Tamer and Private Horde, the Commonwealth field also includes Christine's Outlaw, an inconsistent but occasionally brilliant colt; Scrimshaw, the 2003 Lexington winner making his first start in nearly eight months; Marino Marini, the longshot runner-up in the Grade 1 Malibu in December; and Saint Waki, who ships in from Oaklawn Park for trainer Pete Vestal.

The Commonwealth normally serves as a lead-in to the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap, an annually fixture on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Congaree may be able to run in the CD 'Cap.

Cat Singer tops Shakertown

Although the Blue Grass and Commonwealth are the marquee events here Saturday, probably the best betting race of the day is the seventh, the $100,000 Shakertown.

Twelve turf sprinters will contest the Grade 3 Shakertown, including Cat Singer, a 4-year-old gelding who ran this same 5 1/2-furlong distance in a course-record 1:03.26 when making his turf debut last month at Fair Grounds.

"I'm not afraid he'll bounce because he came out of the race like it was nothing," said trainer Toni Gabriel.

Other logical contenders include Soaring Free, Abderian, Fiscally Speaking, Blakelock, and Day Trader.