03/02/2006 1:00AM

Much-improved version of Silver Train returns

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Silver Train will make his first start since winning the BC Sprint.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - What a difference a year makes.

Last winter at this time, Silver Train struggled to stay competitive against first-level allowance competition. Saturday, he returns to Gulfstream Park as the reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint winner and heavy favorite to capture the Grade 2, $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship Handicap.

Silver Train, the 120-pound highweight in the seven-furlong Richter Scale, will concede from four to eight pounds to Sir Greeley, Judiths Wild Rush, Mister Fotis, Middle Earth, Wild Tale, Bull Ranch, Tour of the Cat, Universal Form, and Pirate King.

was transferred to the barn of trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. after dropping a pair of first-level allowance races here in 2005. He proceeded to win three of his next five starts, capping off the year with a five-length win in the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap and a game head decision over Taste of Paradise in the BC Sprint.

Silver Train, whose principal owner Mahmoud Fustok died in an accident last month, has not missed a beat in the morning since late January. He has worked every six days dating back to Jan. 25 and Dutrow said he expects a big effort right off the bat.

"He's ready to run," said Dutrow. "He's run well off the layoff in the past and I think he'll run big on Saturday. My only concern is if he likes the racetrack."

Dutrow has set two major goals this season for Silver Train. The first is the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on May 29. The second would be a successful defense of his title in the Breeders' Cup.

"You never can expect it, but I'm certainly hoping for another big year from him," said Dutrow.

enters the Richter Scale off a 1 1/2-length optional claiming victory over Funny Cide going a mile on Feb. 2. Sir Greeley met Silver Train once before, finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Jerome.

Judiths Wild Rush, Canada's sprint champion in 2005, finished a tiring third in the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap here on Feb. 5, and trainer Reade Baker said he's expecting a much-improved effort from Judiths Wild Rush with that race under his belt.

stretches out to perhaps his most effective distance after finishing sixth in the six-furlong Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 28.

Universal Form registered one of the meet's biggest upsets when he rallied to a one-length victory over 4-5 War Front at odds of 53-1 in the Deputy Minister.