02/17/2003 1:00AM

Pair of stars come out early


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Two for the Show.

We saw at least two solid Kentucky Derby prospects at Gulfstream Park Saturday on an attractive card largely devoted to the 3-year-old division. These are still preliminary days on the road to the Big Show, but Einar Robsham's Trust N Luck, who won the Fountain of Youth Stakes by more than five lengths, and Michael Tabor's Lion Tamer, who won the Hutcheson Stakes by six lengths, passed important tests with flying colors.

The well-seasoned and consistent Trust N Luck came into the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth with genuine credentials, including a front-running 11-length score in the What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder two months ago. Perhaps they thought he would not be able to sustain those tactics in the Grade 1 company he met this time, for he was the fourth choice at almost 5-1.

Trust N Luck got the job done, however, and did it his way. He insisted on the lead, and when challenged early by Midway Cat, persevered until he got clear on the backstretch. Once he established control he appeared to relax, and he carried his speed easily to the wire. That speed makes him a dangerous competitor, as he is likely to demonstrate again in weeks ahead.

Robsham, a retired real estate executive from New England with a lengthy background in racing, has a sizable unit of his stable in New York. Seeking to beef up his Florida stable, he asked trainer Ralph Ziadie to buy several horses for him at the Ocala Breeders sale last March. Ziadie, who developed Sir Bear into a winner of $2.5 million, fell in love with Trust N Luck, a Montbrook colt, at first sight and spent most of the money acquiring him for $200,000. He won at first asking and has shown steady improvement.

Ziadie, who began training in the United States in 1979 after emigrating from Jamaica, believes he has a very good horse in Trust N Luck. He plans to run him back in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 15 and then will train him up to the Kentucky Derby, to have him as fresh as possible. Trust N Luck won the Fountain of Youth off a two-month interval. There is a seven-week gap between the Florida and Kentucky derbies.

Lion Tamer, by the Easy Goer stallion Will's Way, is a stalker, and employed those tactics to win the seven-furlong Hutcheson, his third victory from four starts. Crafty Guy set the pace. Lion Tamer, the 13-10 favorite, caught him in the upper stretch and drew out to register with authority under John Velazquez.

Lion Tamer was purchased as a yearling for $180,000 by the Peachtree Stable syndicate, raced twice last season, and showed ability on both occasions. He had another strong outing here in early January, and then was purchased privately for Michael Tabor by the sharp-eyed Demi O'Byrne. The price has been reported at $1.5 million.

Lion Tamer, who has shown marked improvement with every start, earns the enthusiastic support of trainer Todd Pletcher, who is studying his options for the colt's next appearance. The Florida Derby is a possibility and so is the Lane's End at Turfway Park on March 29. Both are run at nine furlongs.

Another 3-year-old to catch the eye Saturday was Calumet Farm's Region of Merit, a Touch Gold colt who was purchased as a yearling for $475,000. Racing just off the pace, with Eibar Coa up, he accelerated through the stretch to win an allowance race by five lengths. It was his third consecutive victory from four starts and trainer Chris Clement thinks he is the real McCoy.

Clement doesn't want to ask too much too soon of Region of Merit and will study several possible programs after Region of Merit indicates how he digested his latest race.