03/13/2007 12:00AM

New tactic helps Baron Von Tap


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Considering that Baron Von Tap had rarely been more than two lengths off the lead in any of his previous 18 turf races, it had to be particularly disconcerting for trainer Howie Tesher to see his horse at the rear of the pack, nearly a dozen lengths off the pace, after the opening half-mile of the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Handicap. And it had to be equally as heartening for Tesher when Baron Von Tap came flying through the stretch to finish less than two lengths behind Hotstufanthensome in perhaps the most encouraging performance of his career.

Baron Von Tap can put his newfound running style to good use when he returns to Gulfstream Park for Thursday's $49,500 feature, to be decided at a mile on the grass under third-level allowance conditions.

"When he broke he got steadied between horses," Tesher said. "The rider took a hold and he just never got under way in Tampa. He was still last coming into the stretch, then swung out and finished full of run. If he had stayed outside he might have won, but he angled back inside at midstretch and wound up having to steady behind the leaders right near the end."

Baron Von Tap finished fourth in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup but still received a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure.

"He really ran a winning race, and the one good thing about the whole affair is that he showed he'll rate and now we can run him from either on or off the pace," said Tesher. "We're coming back here Thursday and into the same race we scratched out of to run in Tampa - a condition he just missed winning earlier in the meet despite coming into that race a short horse coming off a three-month layoff."

Baron Von Tap's newfound ability to rate should serve him well Thursday, considering the presence of stretch-out sprinters Sinkwich and Runnin to the Bar and the always-dangerous Lewis Michael, who will be making his first start since finishing 11th after steadying repeatedly in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Lewis Michael will return to the turf for the first time since chasing an extremely fast pace and fading to ninth in the Colonial Turf Cup in June. A two-time winner on grass, Lewis Michael was also third in Calder's Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby last year at 3.

An honest pace could also enhance the chances of the 2006 Jersey Derby winner Presious Passion and recent $62,500 claiming winner Amendable.