01/15/2004 1:00AM

El Prado Rob seeks rebound in Holy Bull


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - El Prado Rob is considered the fourth- or perhaps even fifth-best 3-year-old in trainer Nick Zito's barn. The scary thought is that he still may be good enough to win Saturday's wide-open Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The $100,000 is the first major East Coast prep on the road to the Kentucky Derby. The 1 1/16-mile stakes is also a major stepping-stone to this meet's marquee event, the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 14.

is one of several key contenders in a Holy Bull field that also includes Grade 1 winner Silver Wagon, the steadily improving Second of June, New York-bred standout Friends Lake, and the Canadian hopeful Smoocher.

Seneca Summer, Hopefortheroses, Tap Dancing Mauk, Hitthegroundrunnin, and Caiman complete the field.

El Prado Rob is seeking to rebound from a disappointing performance in the Grade 2 Remsen, where his chances were compromised after he bobbled and was knocked around leaving the starting gate. In his previous start, El Prado Rob rallied to an impressive 2 1/2-length allowance victory going 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland.

"Throw his last start out the window," Zito said. "He's much better than that race indicates. He didn't ship well and wasn't 100 percent right for the Remsen. He's trained very well since he's been down here."

El Prado Rob will break from post 2 under Edgar Prado in the Holy Bull.

Silver Wagon is also looking to improve on his 2-year-old finale - he finished third, beaten five lengths by Second of June, in Calder's What a Pleasure Stakes. The What a Pleasure was Silver Wagon's first start since his four-length victory over Chapel Royal in the Grade 1 Hopeful 15 weeks earlier and was his first race around two turns.

"I think you'll see a different horse out there Saturday than in his last start," said Ralph Ziadie, who trains Silver Wagon for Buckram Oak Farm. "He was even less fit than than I'd originally thought he'd be for the What a Pleasure, but he's coming into this race close to 100 percent fit. And he seemed to handle this track a lot better when we worked him earlier in the week than he does the track at Calder."

Second of June has gotten better with every start and is the one to beat. A son of Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, Second of June earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 97 in the What a Pleasure, and he appears to have conquered the unruly gate manner that hampered him in his earlier starts.

Trainer Bill Cesare brought Second of June over to Gulfstream last week to gallop and school in the paddock but gave him his final work for the Holy Bull, a mile in an eye-catching 1:41.60 seconds, at Calder.

Friends Lake is hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow New York-bred and 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide. A son of A.P. Indy owned by breeders Chester and Mary Broman, Friends Lake has beaten statebreds in his last two starts, including the Sleepy Hollow Stakes, in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99. The Holy Bull will mark his first start around two turns.

"This will be his first test to see where he's going to match up with the rest of them," said trainer John Kimmel. "And I'm kind of excited about seeing where he fits."