07/31/2001 11:00PM

City Zip's triple triumph won spot in history

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - During the backstretch run of last year's Hopeful Stakes, trainer Linda Rice thought something was wrong with her 2-year-old City Zip. After pressing the pace for the first quarter mile, City Zip started dropping back entering the far turn.

"I thought we had a problem," Rice recalled.

But around the turn, City Zip got back in the race and launched a six-wide bid under Jose Santos. At the eighth pole, City Zip still trailed Yonaguska by almost two lengths. Somehow, he kicked in with a tremendous final furlong to dead-heat Yonaguska for win in the Grade 1 Hopeful.

It capped a historic six weeks for City Zip. Earlier in the Saratoga meet, he won the Sanford Stakes and Saratoga Special. By adding the Hopeful, City Zip joined Regret (1914), Campfire (1916) and Dehere (1993) as the only horses to sweep all three of Saratoga's juvenile stakes. Native Dancer won four stakes here in 1952, but he didn't win the Sanford. Secretariat and El Chico each won three races in their juvenile year at Saratoga.

Friday, City Zip returns to the scene of his amazing run when he heads an eight-horse field entered in the $125,000 Amsterdam Stakes. The Amsterdam, a Grade 2 run at six furlongs, serves as a prep for the Grade 1 King's Bishop on Aug. 25, a race also on City Zip's menu.

"It's going to be a light season for him; he's only going to start twice this season here," Rice joked.

Rice took time out Wednesday morning to reflect on last summer's accomplishment, one she may not truly appreciate for years to come.

Coming off a 2 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Tremont at Belmont, City Zip was pointed to the Sanford where he would once again face Yonaguska, who had soundly beaten City Zip in the Flash Stakes. In the Sanford, City Zip turned the tables, blowing past Yonaguska at the eighth pole en route to a 3 1/2-length victory.

Originally, Rice thought about skipping the Saratoga Special and pointing to the Hopeful. As it got closer to the Special, Rice had second thoughts.

"When we went to the Saratoga Special it appeared he laid over the field pretty well so we went ahead and used that race in between," Rice said. "If we thought it was going to be a difficult spot maybe we would have opted to do something differently."

City Zip crushed the field, romping to a 2 1/4-length win after putting away early pace pressure. There were only 17 days to the Hopeful, but Rice felt City Zip had what it took to handle the hectic schedule.

"The two most important things are his disposition and his constitution," Rice said. "He has a tremendous mind for racing, he doesn't get shook up about anything. He's got a tremendous constitution. He eats well, rests well. There are very few horses that can stand the kind of heat that he can."

In the Hopeful, there were a lot of things thrown at City Zip and the other 2-year-olds. A storm was on the horizon packed with thunder, lightning and rain. The post parade was canceled and the horses were taken right to the gate. City Zip handled everything like a professional.

When he came with his late run to dead-heat Yonaguska, City Zip had made history.

"I knew going in it was going to be historical," Rice said. "It was very difficult to accomplish and quite a feat on the horse's part. I suppose in my next decade or two of training, I'll appreciate it even more how difficult it is."

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