03/10/2003 1:00AM

Tour of the Cat shows grit

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - There were two races in Saturday's $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup. In the first, Burning Roma stalked the pacesetting Native Heir, part of a favored entry at 7-10. He caught and passed his foe in upper stretch, then found himself locked in a fresh duel with the 9-1 Tour of the Cat.

The determined Burning Roma, winner of more than $1.3 million, doesn't make concessions and carried the battle to the finish. The earlier "race" had taken something out of him, however, and the competitive Tour of the Cat won by a head.

There was just enough drama to make it an interesting feature, and while Tour of the Cat had some help from the earlier competition in Richter Scale, he turned in a strong performance under Abad Cabassa Jr. When they met last month in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Handicap on the grass, Burning Roma beat Tour of the Cat by five lengths.

"We've been working with Tour of the Cat to relax a little more during the first part of his races," trainer Myra Mora said. "We also did a lot of work on his feet. They tend to bruise easily. But he is a hard-trying horse who hates to be passed. He came up to the Richter Scale very nicely and we thought he would do well. He'll go on holiday for a month. He deserves some time off after the effort he put in."

The Grade 2 Richter Scale was the first victory in a graded stakes race for Mora, who has been training for five years after a stint in the show ring. She claimed Tour of the Cat out of his first start for $25,000 on behalf of the Double G Stable of Susan Gannon of Tampa, Fla. The 5-year-old horse by Tour d'Or has earned almost $600,000.

Political Attack holds strong form

Mike Matz knows a competitor when he sees one.

Matz rode in three Olympics, four Pan American Games, and four World Championships, winning a number of medals for the United States. The athlete who refuses to be beaten has always earned his admiration, which is why he has so many nice things to say about Gene Dixon's Political Attack, winner of Sunday's $100,000 Canadian Turf Handicap.

Political Attack, a 4-year-old colt by Hawk Attack, fought his way to the lead at the head of the stretch. Then, with Mark Guidry in the saddle, he gamely withstood a long drive to hold off a serious challenge by the favored Miesque's Approval to get the money.

"I was proud of him," Matz said. "He was under pressure and could have given it up, but he didn't. He hung in there and it was a timely score for us because so many things have gone awry this winter. Adjusting the blinkers was a factor. Both the rider and the exercise rider recommended that we open the blinkers to help him see the opposition. He was like a bulldog when they came to him."

Trainer John Fisher bought Political Attack privately last summer for Dixon, a well-known sportsman who has been involved with baseball, basketball, and other professional sports in the Philadelphia area. Fisher did not come to Florida this winter and Political Attack was sent to Matz. He has made three starts in Florida, showed considerable improvement from race to race, and may have turned an important corner in his career.