Originally created 04/28/04

Biancone, Lion Heart avoiding hectic Churchill



LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Lion Heart trainer Patrick Biancone covets the Kentucky Derby. He can live without the hectic bustle at Churchill Downs in the week leading up to the race.

The French-born trainer has kept Lion Heart 80 miles away at Keeneland since the chestnut colt finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes. The Lexington track offers a serene alternative to crowded Churchill, where about 1,400 horses will be stabled this week.

Biancone's main worry was protecting Lion Heart from traffic problems that increase as Derby Day draws closer.

"You need a walkie-talkie and everything to make sure nobody breaks at the same time as him," Biancone said. "If we did that every morning, I would become crazy or he would become crazy. That's why we try to stay away a little bit and keep all his nerves controlled for Saturday."

Lion Heart made a brief appearance at Churchill Downs on Monday morning, wandering around the paddock for a half an hour before breezing four furlongs in 47.8 seconds.

By noon, the colt had boarded a van and was headed back to Keeneland. Biancone will decide later when he will bring Lion Heart back to Churchill for his final Derby preparations.

"This horse is of enormous value. You don't want him getting hurt," Biancone said. "I was just trying to be safe."

Lion Heart, unbeaten in three starts as a 2-year-old, heads into the Derby off two narrow losses.

The colt led the San Rafael and the Blue Grass much of the way before losing by a neck to Imperialism and by a half-length to The Cliff's Edge.

Jockey Mike Smith was touting the colt's versatility to Biancone before the Blue Grass.

"I said, 'Mike, what do you think about the race?"' Biancone recalled. "He said, 'Boss, I have only one question for you: do you want to win easy or do you want to give him a hard race?' He took the lead easily and he just let the horse relax. One horse came and beat us."

Biancone is still confident his horse can vie for the lead Saturday and still have enough left to finish the 1 1/4 -mile race.

"I'm never concerned about too much speed because that's what you look for in a horse. The speedier he is, the better it is for the trainer," said Biancone.

If Biancone has a concern, it's the horse's lackadaisical work ethic.

"His weakness is he has too much talent," he said. "Sometimes, it's difficult for horses with too much talent because they have a tendency to want to do a little bit of what they want. Hopefully, we'll fix him right and he'll be very professional on Saturday."

The colt was hardly winded by his workout on Monday, Biancone said.

"You see him after a work, and he's like he is before the work - he cares about nothing," Biancone said. "What he loves is to gallop, which is a good thing for a racehorse."

Biancone thinks the colt's low-key demeanor will be a major asset Saturday.

"On Derby day, you have maybe 15 horses who lose control," Biancone said. "He's very relaxed. That's one of his strengths. He's a lamb when he walks and a lion when the gate opens."

Smith will ride Lion Heart again Saturday.