08/24/2004 11:00PM

Lion Heart will be tough, trainer says

Lion Heart (above) drew post 2 for Saturday's Grade 1 Travers Stakes, right next to Purge, the other speed type in the race, in post 3. Purge was made the morning-line favorite at 2-1.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Patrick Biancone says the Lion Heart who will try to get 1 1/4 miles in Saturday's is not the same Lion Heart who failed to get the same distance in the Kentucky Derby 17 weeks ago.

If he's right, then Lion Heart could very well win the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Biancone said the speed that Lion Heart showed as a 2-year-old and early in his 3-year-old season is much more manageable now than it was then. After failing to win a race in his first four starts this year, Lion Heart enters the Travers off victories in the Grade 3 Long Branch and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

"He's learned how to race," Biancone said. "In the spring, he was difficult to train; he was a pain. He'd want to go too fast - it was his way or no way. We have compromised [with] each other."

Don LaPlace, the linemaker for the New York Racing Association, made Jim Dandy winner Purge the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Travers, while making Lion Heart and Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone the co-second choices at 3-1. Lion Heart, the main speed of the Travers, will break from post 2, while Purge, the other front-running type, drew post 3.

Four others were entered for the Travers: Blue Grass winner The Cliff's Edge, West Virginia Derby winner Sir Shackleton, Northern Dancer Stakes winner Suave, and Preakness third-place finisher Eddington.

The Travers will go as race 11 on a 12-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. It will be shown live on ESPN as part of a two-hour "SportsCenter" program originating from Saratoga. With a 6:25 post, the Travers will be the anchor leg of a pick four wager with a guaranteed $1 million pool.

Lion Heart went 3 for 3 as a 2-year-old, but Biancone said he won those races - including the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity - on sheer talent. Biancone said Lion Heart's first real race wasn't until his 3-year-old debut, in which he was beaten a neck by Imperialism in the Grade 2 San Rafael.

Lion Heart finished second behind The Cliff's Edge in the Blue Grass before running a creditable second behind Smarty Jones in the Kentucky Derby. His only bad performance was the Preakness, where he was beaten 13 1/2 lengths by Smarty Jones after setting the pace.

"Preakness, you blame me, I made a couple of mistakes," Biancone said. "I had never been to that place - I shoed him wrong. I worked him too fast in between races."

Biancone gave Lion Heart a freshening after the Preakness, and he said the colt has put on 30 pounds of pure muscle. Now, Biancone said, Lion Heart can go the distance.

"He says come get me," Biancone said. "He has a hard style. He's kind of a destroyer - he has killed a few, to be honest with you. . . . The advantage with him is you know he's going to give you 100 percent. Now if a horse is better than him, what can you do?"

Field for the 135th running of the Travers Stakes

1 EDDINGTON M. Hennig R. Migliore 15-1
2 LION HEART P. Biancone J. Bravo 3-1
3 PURGE T. Pletcher J. Velazquez 2-1
4 SIR SHACKLETON N. Zito R. Bejarano 10-1
5 BIRDSTONE N. Zito E. Prado 3-1
6 THE CLIFF'S EDGE N. Zito S. Sellers 7-2
7 SUAVE P. McGee P. Day 20-1