08/05/2001 11:00PM

Lukas decides right on Scorpion


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When a good horse doesn't run his race, something is usually wrong.

The verity of that racing axiom was certified with the announcement that Congaree had wrenched an ankle while finishing third Saturday as the favorite in the $600,000 Jim Dandy and may be out the remainder of the season.

None of this should reflect on the victorious Scorpion, who ran the race of his career and paid $25 in notching his fourth win from 13 starts. A $490,000 Keeneland yearling, he was a promising 2-year-old last season, finishing in the money in two stakes appearances. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas tabbed him a candidate for the classics, but a quarter crack in the Santa Anita Derby cost him several months.

Scorpion (by Seattle Slew) had an excellent comeback race at Belmont Park last month, winning from off the pace despite being shut off and forced to steady. That was only at six furlongs, however, and by itself, small encouragement to back him against the talented Congaree, fresh from a slamming tally in the Grade 1 Swaps at the Jim Dandy distance of nine furlongs.

The average fellow might have been reluctant to start him under the circumstances, but Lukas, as we've seen many times, is not average. He knows the value and potential of the horses he runs, which is why he is credited with such longshot triumphs as Editor's Note and Commendable in the Belmont Stakes and Charismatic in the Kentucky Derby.

Lukas had an opportunity to run Scorpion the day before the Jim Dandy in Friday's $125,000 Amsterdam Stakes for 3-year-olds at six furlongs but decided against it after Jerry Bailey became available to ride Scorpion. Bailey responded with a brilliant effort, reserving his mount when Congaree spurted leaving the half-mile pole. Timing his drive with the touch of a violin master, he got Scorpion up by half a length to the astonishment of the 31,000 on hand.

As he demonstrated in his celebrated ride aboard the French longshot Arcangues in the Breeders' Cup Classic of 1993, Bailey never gives up on a horse. In addition, he is very aware, of not only how and where his horse is racing, but also how and where his principal opponents are racing as well. With the information he has assembled, he is in a position to make a judgment, and his reasoning is consistently sound.

Lukas advises that Scorpion came out of the Jim Dandy in excellent order and expects to run him back in the $1 million Travers on Aug. 25. He feels the colt is good now and will be able to hold that form. He also is of the opinion that Scorpion has considerable versatility and can be just as effective at six furlongs as he was last weekend at nine furlongs.

We mentioned that Lukas briefly considered the Amsterdam Stakes for Scorpion. It was quite a memorable race without him, thanks to an eye-to-eye duel through the stretch between City Zip, a winner of three stakes here last summer and Speightstown, a $2 million purchase at Keeneland in 1999.

Both came to the Amsterdam in smart form, City Zip off sprint stakes victories at Pimlico and Monmouth Park and Speightstown off three clever wins at Woodbine.

The two colts engaged early, went the first quarter together in 21.69 seconds and the half in 44.86 - Jorge Chavez on City Zip and Jerry Bailey on Speightstown.

With the crowd loud and surely keyed to the torrid fractions, Speightstown and City Zip, who bumped in the upper stretch, drove for the wire. Speightstown was on the outside, where most horses prefer to run. City Zip refused to crack under pressure, however, and prevailed by a length while conceding five pounds. It was an impressive demonstration of courage under fire, and trainer Linda Rice was understandably proud of the Carson City colt.

"He's quite a campaigner," she said. "He's very competitive, and when he gets alongside another horse, he really digs in. His next race is expected to be the $200,000 King's Bishop on Aug. 25. He had to work hard in the Amsterdam but he'll have had three weeks between starts and he is resilient. He also loves this racetrack, where he is 4 for 4."

City Zip is owned by Carl Bowling, Chuck Thompson, Becky Thomas, and Lewis Lakin. A $9,000 Keeneland yearling purchase, he has earned $663,725 - and with a bit of luck may turn that into a seven-figure number.