03/04/2004 12:00AM

Lion Tamer faces stiff competition

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Even without the winners of the three major sprint stakes already run at this meet, Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship came up an intriguing race.

Cajun Beat, winner of the Mr. Prospector on opening day; Shake You Down, the Sunshine Millions Sprint champion; and Alke, who upset Cajun Beat in the Deputy Minister, are headed elsewhere, but the Richter Scale still features Grade 1 winners Valid Video and Gygistar.

And, both of those horses will have to be razor sharp to handle , who is unbeaten at Gulfstream and at the Richter Scale distance of seven furlongs. Coach Jimi Lee, Multiple Choice, True Direction, and Wacky for Love complete the field.

Last winter, Lion Tamer was developing into one of the country's premier 3-year-old sprinters after a dominant six-length score in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes. His connections contracted a case of Derby fever, trying to stretch him out in the Lane's End and Blue Grass with disappointing results. Lion Tamer came out of the Blue Grass with a physical problem that sidelined him the remainder of the season.

Lion Tamer, a son of Will's Way, returned with an impressive 2 1/4-length victory in an optional claiming race here on Jan. 28. In that race, Lion Tamer was bumped at the break, raced three wide down the backside, took control approaching the quarter pole, and won without jockey John Velazquez's hands leaving his neck.

"Like I told Johnny, the first priority is to win, but if you can win with something left that would be great, and he throttled him down pretty strong the last sixteenth,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He ran very well and has trained well since then.''

Lion Tamer will break from the outside under Velazquez and 116 pounds.

Valid Video is a five-time stakes winner, including a triumph in the Grade 1 King's Bishop last summer at Saratoga. He finished last in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, though trainer Dennis Manning said the horse pulled a stifle in the race. In his 4-year-old debut, Valid Video finished third behind Shake You Down in the Sunshine Millions Sprint.

Valid Video raced wide and was a bit farther back than normal in the Sunshine Millions race. Manning said he believes he has a stronger horse for the Richter Scale.

Trainer Mark Hennig had to be happy when Gygistar drew post 6. Gygistar, who hates to run inside of horses, drew the rail in four of his previous five starts.