02/25/2003 12:00AM

Auto City strong if able to repeat latest

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Based on what Auto City has done in his brief career, he's an ideal candidate to outrun his pedigree.

As a son of Carson City, the 3-year-old Auto City could be expected to be best suited for sprints. But when asked to try two turns for the first time in a first-level allowance race last month, Auto City responded with a lifetime-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure while finishing second behind the highly regarded Colita.

Auto City will get a chance to show that good effort was no fluke when he makes his second start in a route race Thursday at Aqueduct. He faces eight other 3-year-olds, all seeking their first win beyond the maiden ranks, in the seventh race at one mile and 70 yards.

Trainer Linda Rice has said she suspected Auto City might improve at longer distances. His race Jan. 20, in which he finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Colita, confirmed Rice's hunch.

Colita was impressive enough in a maiden win over the inner track that Team Valor purchased a half-interest and announced after his first-level allowance win over Auto City that he would be a Triple Crown candidate. Colita's reputation was slightly tarnished last weekend when he finished fifth as the even-money favorite in the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

If Auto City moves forward off his first route race, it wouldn't be surprising if he is given a shot to see what he can do against much tougher company.

Mustang Jock, who should vie for favoritism with Auto City, is already stakes-tested at route distances. He finished a close second to the then-unbeaten New York-bred Grey Comet in the Count Fleet and came within 3 3/4 lengths of Boston Park in the Whirlaway earlier this month. In both those races Mustang Jock dueled up front early. He's likely to face pressure again from several other horses who also do their best running when they're on the lead.

The most intriguing front-runner is Texas shipper Coyote Kid, who skyrocketed from a 47 Beyer in his career debut to an 88 last time out when he romped by more than 18 lengths in the mud at Sam Houston. Coyote Kid is part of an entry for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. with Swept in Three, another front-runner. Only one part of the entry will run.

If a speed duel develops, the race could set up nicely for Two Sparks, who came from off the pace to win his maiden at one mile on Feb. 9.

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