02/13/2003 12:00AM

Two horses, two styles, two races


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Two out of three isn't bad, unless you really, really, wanted all three. But two out of three is the hand trainer Todd Pletcher now holds for this weekend's major 3-year-old prep races.

Because his colt Bham took ill late last week, Pletcher does not have a horse in the biggest race of the weekend, Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. But he has contenders in the other two races, with once-beaten Lion Tamer in the Hutcheson Stakes on the Fountain of Youth undercard, and unbeaten Indy Dancer in Sunday's Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Lion Tamer and Indy Dancer are a combined 4 for 5, all while ridden by John Velazquez. But other than sharing space in the same barn at Palm Meadows training center, they are quite different.

Lion Tamer was the more precocious of the two. He made it to the races last May, debuting in a five-furlong race at Belmont Park in which he finished second. He made his next start in September at Belmont, then made his 2003 debut here at Gulfstream in January. He has raced three times, all in sprints, and has won his last two starts.

Indy Dancer did not make it to the races until November at Aqueduct, and started out going a mile. He won that race, then won again on Jan. 4 at Gulfstream going 1 1/16 miles. His second victory came on the same card as that of Lion Tamer's second win.

Both have had six weeks to prepare for their stakes debuts this weekend. The spots chosen for them by Pletcher speaks to their progress, and their prospects of making the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

Indy Dancer, who was bred and is owned by the art-dealing Wertheimer family of France, "looks the part, and is bred for the part," Pletcher said. A son of A.P. Indy out of the Mr. Prospector mare Dance with Grace, Indy Dancer is "medium-sized in height, but he's a very well-made, strong colt," Pletcher said.

"He's got good muscle tone and an attractive head," Pletcher said. "He's one of those horses who always looks well. He's got a shiny coat. Even before we left New York for here, you could see some of the horses' coats wanting to get a winter look, but he was always looking good. He's got a great mind, too. Nothing bothers him."

Indy Dancer "never trained fast, but always trained well," Pletcher said. He began his training with Pletcher's father, J.J., who breaks yearlings at a farm in Florida. "He trained well on the farm," Pletcher said.

"Because he's an A.P. Indy, you don't want him to be a May, June, or July 2-year-old, so we backed off and took our time," Pletcher said. "We wanted to start him off at at least seven furlongs, and by the time he was ready they were running one-turn miles at Aqueduct."

Pletcher contemplated moving Indy Dancer to the Fountain of Youth when Bham took ill, but reasoned Indy Dancer would be suited best by running at Fair Grounds, which has the longest stretch in the United States now that Sportsman's Park is closed. In addition, Pletcher believes Gulfstream's main track is more speed-favoring than Fair Grounds's; he thinks Indy Dancer will have a better chance at Fair Grounds.

Lion Tamer, by contrast, is more refined than Indy Dancer.

"He's not a big, robust horse," Pletcher said. "He looks more like a filly than a colt."

Lion Tamer came out of his debut with sore shins, hence the four-month gap between his first and second starts. Also, because of his slight build, Lion Tamer "has had a lot of space between his starts," Pletcher said.

"He has to be managed differently than Indy Dancer," Pletcher said. "He's the kind of horse who lays his body down, so we were better off building a foundation with him. His last race was at six furlongs, so it made more sense to run him in Hutcheson and go from six furlongs to seven, rather than run in the Fountain of Youth and go from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth. That would be a real gut-wrencher."

A son of Will's Way out of the Olympio mare Tippecanoe Creek, Lion Tamer was purchased as yearling for $100,000 by the Peachtree Stable of John Fort. But after Lion Tamer's allowance victory last month, Peachtree sold Lion Tamer to Michael Tabor, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1995 with Thunder Gulch. Since Pletcher trains for both Peachtree and Tabor, all that changed was the colt's ownership papers; he stayed in his same stall at Pletcher's barn.

"I don't know how far he wants to go, but the main reason is because he hasn't done it yet," Pletcher said. "He hasn't given any indication he can't do it, either in his racing or his training.

"He's got a lot of ability," Pletcher said. "And he's got a tremendous turn of foot."