01/26/2004 12:00AM

Lion Tamer in first start since April

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Lion Tamer, winner of the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes here last winter but idle since finishing far back in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 12, gets back in action in an optional claiming/allowance carded as Wednesday's eighth race.

"He's really worked well the last two times and is coming into the race very sharp," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Lion Tamer for owner Michael Tabor. "We still think he'll get two turns even though that hasn't happened yet. We've pointed him for this race for a while, and I'll just see what happens Wednesday before deciding where we'll go next."

Pletcher moved back atop the trainer standings Sunday after sending out a pair of promising 3-year-old fillies, Irish Melody and Cherry Bomb, to win their career debuts.

Irish Melody, a daughter of Unbridled's Song and half-sister to the stakes winner Attico, spotted her rivals several lengths at the start but was still good enough to run down the pacesetting Storm Minstrel to win at first asking. Cherry Bomb, by Honor Grades, outdueled another first time starter, Welcome Home, on the lead before drawing off to an impressive victory in the second and much faster division of the split maiden allowance dash.

Two of the best horses in Pletcher's stable worked Sunday at Palm Meadows: Ashado, runner-up to Halfbridled in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, breezed an easy half-mile in 51.40 seconds, and the speedy grass horse Balto Star went five furlongs in 1:00.40.

Funny Cide works for Donn

Funny Cide, one of the favorites for the Grade 1 Donn, worked Monday over a fast Palm Meadows surface. Funny Cide went five furlongs under regular exercise rider Robin Smullen in 59 seconds, handily.

Funny Cide appears headed for a showdown with Medaglia d'Oro in the 1 1/8-mile Donn.

Also Monday at Palm Meadows, Triple Crown candidate Tapit worked six furlongs in 1:13.60 for trainer Michael Dickinson.

Santos to ride Silver Wagon

Jose Santos, who won Sunday's Grade 3 Mac Diarmida Handicap aboard Request for Parole, will be the new rider for Silver Wagon when the 3-year-old makes his next start, in the $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 14.

Santos replaces Jerry Bailey, who has ridden Silver Wagon in each of his last four starts, including a victory in the Grade 1 Hopeful last summer at Saratoga. Bailey is expected to ride Read the Footnotes for trainer Rick Violette in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

Silver Wagon is coming off a second-place finish behind Second of June in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes.

Santos, who is also the regular rider for Funny Cide, ranks third in the jockey standings behind John Velazquez and Cornelio Velasquez after the first three weeks of the meet.

Zito 3-year-olds work

The powerhouse trio of 3-year-olds that Nick Zito has at the Palm Meadows training center continues to take major steps toward their 2004 debuts. Birdstone, Eurosilver, and The Cliff's Edge each had five-furlong workouts Saturday, and Zito was satisfied.

"I'm really happy with all of them," said Zito. "So far, so good. I'm starting to look for a race for each one of them. The key is not to start them out with anything too hard."

Birdstone and Eurosilver each breezed in 1:02, and The Cliff's Edge went in 1:01.40.

Zito remains non-committal on which races the horses will compete in, although he eventually is targeting The Cliff's Edge for the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. Two obvious spots are the Fountain of Youth and Hutcheson Stakes, both on Feb. 14, and there is at least one Gulfstream allowance race available.

Meanwhile, Quest, winner of the Grade 2 Clark Handicap by disqualification in his most recent start for Zito, also worked five furlongs.

"We're probably going to miss the [Feb. 7] Donn with him, but that's okay," said Zito. "There are lots of other spots."

Harbour Gate: No hype, all business

The fourth race Saturday may have looked like an everyday maiden race for 3-year-olds. But then came all the so-called "steam" on several of the starters, most notably a couple of grand-looking first-time starters: Intimidator, a $2.1 million purchase trained by Randy Schulhofer, and Medallist, a Touch Gold colt trained by Allen Jerkens.

And then there was Harbour Gate, a Boston Harbor gelding who had earned an 81 Beyer Speed Figure in his first and only start at Calder after getting away to a poor start. Saturday, Harbour Gate rocketed to the front, then turned back Intimidator and Medallist to win the seven-furlong race by 6 1/2 lengths in a swift 1:23.32, earning a 90 Beyer.

"This is the horse we've been wanting for a long time," said longtime horse owner Francis "Skip" McDonnell.

George Handy, who travels a Massachusetts-New Jersey-Florida circuit as the main trainer for McDonnell, said Harbour Gate "used to be a rogue, which is why we had to castrate him, but he's come a long way."

Handy said Harbour Gate may run next in the seven-furlong Hutcheson.

Sir Brian's Sword injured

Trainer Christophe Clement said that Sir Brian's Sword, who was taken off in the horse ambulance following his third-place finish in Sunday's Mac Diarmida Handicap, came back with a large "edema on his left tendon."

"He X-rayed clean but we'll have to wait for the swelling to come down before we can scope the tendon later this week," said Clement. "He ran a very good race considering the circumstances, but you could see at the finish he was not traveling as well as he should."

* Frisky Spider improved to 3 for 3 Sunday, winning an allowance race by three-quarters of a length over Weigelia. Frisky Spider, a 3-year-old son of Frisk Me Now trained by Robert Durso, ran the seven furlongs in 1:23.03 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 89.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee