01/31/2007 1:00AM

Ready or not, 'Baron' begins comeback

Email

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Howard Tesher did not expect to have Baron Von Tap dropped in his lap. Nor did the trainer expect to run the horse on Friday at Gulfstream Park. But through a serendipitous series of events, Tesher picked up Baron Von Tap, then was hustled by Gulfstream's racing office to run in the featured seventh race, a 1 1/8-mile grass race that drew just seven runners chasing a purse of $49,500.

Wood Be Willing, Famous Frolic, and Pitchnicholas all exit a similar third-level allowance race on Jan. 14, in which Wood Be Willing finished third. Baron Von Tap, however, is the wild card. While Tesher is not certain the horse is ready for his best, he progressed last year to the point where he ran against subsequent Grade 1 winner Ashkal Way in the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Baron Von Tap has not raced since November, when he narrowly lost a race similar to Wednesday's at Aqueduct. Tesher got the horse after that.

"When I picked him up, he had a bad foot bruise," Tesher said Wednesday afternoon. "I didn't think I was going to run in this spot. The racing office called up and said it looked like it would be a short field.

"He doesn't train very well on dirt. But he worked well this morning on the turf. I'm not sure he's fit enough for the distance, but sometimes the grass carries you farther. He might be fitter than I think."

Baron Von Tap usually races on or near the lead. He should find himself on a lonely lead against his six rivals. But Gulfstream's grass course has tended to devour speed of late.

Wood Be Willing has turned in three strong races without winning since returning in September from an eight-month layoff. He broke poorly from post 12 in his last start.

Famous Frolic was fourth in the Jan. 14 allowance race after checking early and losing position. He is a trouble-prone runner who might benefit by having an outside post.

Pitchnicholas loomed briefly at midstretch in the Jan. 14 race before losing his punch late and finishing fifth. His only win in his last 12 starts came in an off-the-turf race in the slop.

Manchu Prince dips back into allowance company after facing stakes horses in his last four starts.

Salinja is making his first start in this country for trainer Graham Motion. He won 3 of 19 starts in Britain.