02/13/2003 1:00AM

Hutcheson presents fork in 3-year-old road


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Traditionally run as a prep for the Fountain of Youth, Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes now shares billing with the Fountain, the first Grade 1 of the Gulfstream Park meeting.

Contested at seven furlongs, the Hutcheson affords lightly raced horses - in this case Lion Tamer, Scrimshaw, Cajun Beat, and Strength Within - another sprint opportunity before tackling tougher rivals around two turns. For confirmed sprinters, such as First Blush and Crafty Guy - the one-two finishers in the Spectacular Bid Stakes - the Hutcheson is one of the more prestigious and richest sprint races restricted to 3-year-olds.

Scrimshaw and Lion Tamer are the Hutcheson entrants most are focusing on as possible Triple Crown participants. Scrimshaw, trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner and two-time Hutcheson winner D. Wayne Lukas, is coming off the first loss of his career, a six-length defeat to Domestic Dispute in the Santa Catalina at 1 1/16 miles.

Lukas said the loss was not unexpected considering Scrim-shaw was coming off an entry-level allowance win in which he ran six furlongs in 1:08.30 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104.

"I thought he was coming along too quickly, so I backed up on him," Lukas said outside his Gulfstream Park barn. Of the Santa Catalina, Lukas said, "I just wanted to let him get experience around two turns."

Since the Santa Catalina, Lukas has put three sharp workouts into Scrimshaw, who figures to be near the pace under new rider Jerry Bailey, a three-time Hutcheson winner.

Coming off a 7 1/2-length entry-level allowance win on Jan. 4, Lion Tamer figures to be favored in the Hutcheson. Lion Tamer, who was purchased privately by Michael Tabor following his allowance win, has a nasty habit of breaking slowly. But, jockey John Velazquez said, "once he gets rolling, he gets rolling. I think he has the potential to be a very good horse."

First Blush ran down Crafty Guy to win the Spectacular Bid here on opening day. Trainer Allen Jerkens thought it was the most professional performance of First Blush's career.

"He ran like an older horse last time," Jerkens said. "He ran like he knew what he was doing."

Since being gelded, Cajun Beat is 2 for 2, including an impressive entry-level allowance win here Jan. 26.

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