03/06/2003 1:00AM

Early or late, Shuman's right there


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Whether it's from on the lead or off the pace, trainer Mark Shuman has it covered as it relates to Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park.

In Native Heir, Shuman sends out the main speed of the seven-furlong race and a horse coming off a track-record-equaling performance winning the Deputy Minister Handicap. In Highway Prospector, Shuman has one of the top closers in the field and a horse who has won three consecutive starts.

Perhaps the only negative for Shuman, and owner Michael Gill, is that Native Heir is not Breeders' Cup-nominated, meaning he is running for half the purse.

Last month, Native Heir went gate to wire to win the $100,000 Deputy Minister, running 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.17, equaling the track record set by Federal Hill in 1957 and matched by Alydeed in 1993. Shuman credits that performance to a lightning-fast track and a tinkering with the gelding's blinkers.

"There was no true-front runner, and the track was playing golden speed that day," said Shuman, who added that he instructed jockey Cornelio Velasquez "to go and see what happens."

Shuman, who has won 56 races at this meet through Thursday, said he opened up Native Heir's blinkers somewhat after he finished second to Hana Highway in a Jan. 22 allowance race. Shuman felt Native Heir could have won that race had he seen the other horse.

Once again, Native Heir is the main speed under Velasquez and co-high weight of 116 pounds. He breaks from post 3.

Highway Prospector has already won three races at this meet and is 4 for 8 over this track in his career. He does his best running from well back and figures to be among the bevy of late-runners in the field. Jose Santos rides from post 5.

The Richter Scale, formerly known as the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship, does not lack for contenders among its eight runners. Binthebest and Burning Roma, who finished second and third in this race last year, are back. Binthebest finished second to Native Heir in the Deputy Minister, his first start off a 75-day layoff.

"He ran a winning race, the other horse just ran better," said Ian Wilkes, assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger, who is a stunning 0 for 43 at this meet. "We just hope we get the same race back and the other horse doesn't run as fast."

Burning Roma returns to a sprint for the first time since last spring, when he finished third in the Carter Handicap. Since then he has won the nine-furlong Meadowlands Cup on dirt and the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup on turf.

A closing sprinter in his youth, Burning Roma is likely to lay closer to the pace on Saturday, which should give him first run on Native Heir.

"I don't think he'll be in front, but he likes to run a little freer now," trainer Heather Giglio said.

Trainer Todd Pletcher believes Smooth Jazz does his best running fresh, which is why he elected to forgo a prep and run Smooth Jazz in this race off a 100-day layoff.

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