04/22/2004 12:00AM

Return of the champion

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Local 2-year-old champ Lord Samarai makes his 3-year-old debut in Saturday's first race, a six-furlong allowance race. Off last year's form, he's the one to beat. But it's hard to say how far each of the six horses entered have progressed over the winter.

Lord Samarai started five times in 2003, all stakes, and won three races including the Jack Diamond Futurity. He showed tremendous versatility as a 2-year-old. In his debut he forced the pace and won the Ladnesian Stakes. In the futurity, he overcame a poor start and made up over 12 lengths to win.

According to Lord Samarai's trainer, Rob VanOverschot, he's developed nicely over the winter and VanOverschot expects him to run a good race Saturday.

"He hasn't grown a lot but he's matured and is training very well," he said.

If all goes according to plan, Lord Samarai will make his next start in the City of Vancouver May 24 and then ship to Stampede Park for the $100,000 Alberta Derby June 19. David Wilson rides on Saturday.

With speedsters Caledonia Road and Nihilator entered, the pace should be quick and it could set up nicely for Cariboo Prospector. A Kentucky-bred, Cariboo Prospector showed a lot of potential as a 2-year-old with a win and two seconds in three sprints, and then a fifth when he was stretched out in the 1 1/16-mile Ascot Graduation.

He's earned bullets for his last two works, five furlongs in 1:00.80 April 11 and a sharp six-furlong move in 1:15.60 over a sloppy track April 16.

Trainer Tom Longsaff, who is off to a fast start at the meet with a win and two seconds from three starts, has entered Louie Downtown and Digger of Diamonds. Louie Downtown finished second to Lord Samarai in the Ladnesian and was fourth in the futurity.