10/21/2005 12:00AM

BC Classic: Sun King shows upside still there

Sun King has won two of his last four starts, since trainer Nick Zito (right) gave him a two-month break.

ELMONT, N.Y. - At the beginning of the year, Sun King was ranked as one of the nation's top 3-year-olds and was a leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby. He started off well, winning his first two starts, but disappointed in two Triple Crown appearances. Since trainer Nick Zito decided to regroup, however, Sun King has rebounded with a series of good efforts that make him an intriguing longshot in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Sun King was a distant third last time out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which was won in a runaway by Borrego. Before that, he won the Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware, was second to Roman Ruler in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, then overcame the outside post 14 with a 4 1/2-length victory in the Pennsylvania Derby.

"I think he's had a great year," Zito said Friday. "He's made $1.1 million and is one of the top 3-year-olds of the year, and he's still around for the last dance. He's a super, super horse."

Sun King won just once in four starts last year, but third-place finishes in the Champagne Stakes and Breeders' Cup Juvenile stamped him as one to watch at 3. When he came back with a fast win in allowance company at Gulfstream, Sun King went to the top of many Kentucky Derby lists. But Zito said he believes that, in hindsight, that performance may have been too much too soon.

"He got sidetracked a little," Zito said. "Things just didn't work out in his favor."

After winning the Tampa Bay Derby, Sun King was fourth in the Blue Grass and was one of five horses Zito ran in the Kentucky Derby. He finished 15th.

"If you don't win the Derby, you might as well be 18th," Zito said.

Zito gave Sun King one more try, in the Preakness. He ran better, finishing fourth, but no one noticed, since everyone's attention was rightly riveted on the tango between Afleet Alex and Scrappy T.

"At least he was fourth, not 14th," Zito said. "And then after the Preakness, he was Sun King again."

Zito made two adjustments. He added blinkers to Sun King's equipment. "They're cheater blinkers," Zito said, referring to blinkers that block only a minimal amount of peripheral vision. "I just wanted to get him turned around, get him focused."

Zito also was able to get Rafael Bejarano to ride Sun King in every race but the Haskell.

"He makes a big difference in my stable," Zito said. "He rides first call for Nick Zito, sort of like John Velazquez with Todd Pletcher. He's an up-and-coming rider. He has great rapport with me. He's very loyal, and I need someone like that."