04/25/2004 11:00PM

Lion Heart gets in, works out, gets out

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Lion Heart spent only a few hours at Churchill Downs on Monday, getting familiar with the surroundings and putting in a strong workout over the track. Trainer Patrick Biancone can only hope things go as well Saturday when he brings Lion Heart back for the 130th Kentucky Derby.

Lion Heart, who figures to be the early pacesetter in the Derby, vanned to Churchill from Keeneland and worked a half-mile in 47.90 seconds over a fast main track. The breeze followed a 35-minute schooling session in the paddock, where Lion Heart acted like a perfect gentleman, belying his aggressive nature.

"He's a lamb until the gate opens," Biancone said. "Then he's a lion."

Biancone said Lion Heart's aggressiveness is why he has elected to keep him at Keeneland this week. Lion Heart shipped from California to Keeneland in early April for the Blue Grass Stakes, where he finished second behind The Cliff's Edge. With that meet over, Keeneland is much more serene than Churchill Downs.

"Everybody knows in California he was going to the track after the third break," Biancone said. "He has a tendency to run after every horse he sees on the track. What are there, 1,300, 1,400 horses here? I prefer to have a quiet track."

Lion Heart, a son of Tale of the Cat, left Keeneland at 4:45 a.m. on Monday. He arrived at Churchill around 6 a.m. and took residence in Barn 36 before heading to the track. Lion Heart walked the right way around the track and went to the paddock, where he walked for 35 minutes before heading back to the track immediately after the renovation break.

Lion Heart was the first horse to breeze after the renovation break, and Daily Racing Form caught his first quarter in 11.97 seconds, his three-furlong time in 35.97, and his final furlong in 11.93 seconds.

"He could go 45 [seconds] easily," Biancone said. "I just wanted him to stretch his legs, let him see the track. He seems to like it."

Lion Heart cooled out after the work and left Churchill by 11:30. Biancone said Lion Heart is likely to remain at Keeneland until Saturday morning. Derby horses must be on the grounds by 10 a.m. on race day.

Lion Heart, who only made it to the races last Oct. 24, went 3 for 3 as a 2-year-old, including a victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity. He was beaten a neck by Imperialism in the Grade 2 San Rafael in his 3-year-old debut before being run down by The Cliff's Edge in the Blue Grass.

"The problem with my horse is he's too talented," Biancone said. "He has a tendency to put away who he wants when he wants." In the Blue Grass, Biancone said, "When he pulled away on the turn, he thought he was finished and he slowed down. When [The Cliff's Edge] came, he went again."

No one will question Lion Heart's talent. Many will question whether he can get 10 furlongs.

"I never felt this horse had distance limitations," Biancone said. "My feeling is one thing; the results are another thing."

This will be Biancone's second runner in the Derby. Last year, he brought Brancusi, who had finished second in the Blue Grass, but who had only one win from seven starts. He finished last after setting the early pace.

"The main thing is we tried to make Brancusi a Derby horse," Biancone said. "This year we have a Derby horse."