03/08/2005 12:00AM

Scipion putting it together

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NEW ORLEANS - This town is hardly the place to take an immature kid, but it has worked with Scipion. His victory in last month's Risen Star was the first stakes victory of his career and is a reason trainer Patrick Biancone has brought Scipion back to Fair Grounds for Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby.

"A month ago, I wasn't sure he would mature this quick," Biancone said Tuesday.

It has been a long time coming. A son of A.P. Indy, Scipion has been somewhat of an enigma. Hopes were high for him as a youngster, so much so that his breeder, Virginia Kraft Payson, elected to keep Scipion to race, even though he drew a bid of $1.9 million at a yearling auction at Saratoga.

Last summer, trained so well that, despite his long-winded pedigree, he won his debut at Saratoga as the favorite in a sprint. But he failed as the favorite in his next start, failed in his final start at 2, and failed again when favored in his debut at 3.

In the Risen Star, however, it all came together. A contested pace and the long stretch at Fair Grounds allowed Scipion to unleash a strong closing kick under Gary Stevens and rally from last to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

Still, Scipion has yet to run a Beyer Speed Figure any higher than the average 3-year-old allowance winner. He got an 89 in the Risen Star, and that was a career best.

Biancone said he believes Scipion still has plenty of upside, and what has been accomplished to this point is a bonus, since Scipion only figures to improve with age and experience.

"He's a horse with a lot of talent. He's born to go a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half," said Biancone. "It's unfortunate that he won first time out, because he had to go right into stakes. He wasn't mature enough. I would have loved to have seen him run two or three times to break his maiden."

Biancone said he has found Scipion far more of a challenge than Spanish Chestnut, his other top 3-year-old. Spanish Chestnut, who won the San Rafael and was third in the Santa Catalina, is much more straightforward. He accepts the accompaniment of a pony in the morning and adjusts to whatever Biancone asks of him. Scipion, by comparison, is a brat.

"I said before his last race, 'I know how good he is, but he doesn't know how good he is,' " Biancone said.

Since the Risen Star, though, "he has improved," he said. "He's maturing now, which is a good time."