05/14/2004 11:00PM

Royal Assault shows he's Belmont material

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BALTIMORE - Trainer Nick Zito earned more than a consolation prize by virtue of Royal Assault's late-running victory in Saturday's $100,000 at Pimlico. He also added to his growing roster of potential starters to the June 5 Belmont Stakes, a race in which Zito has finished second five times, but has yet to win.

Royal Assault earned his way into the Belmont by rallying from last in the eight-horse Sir Barton to beat Dashboard Drummer by 1 3/4 lengths. Humorously, who was shuffled back on the far turn, rallied for third, a half-length behind Dashboard Drummer. Humorously also fell in the paddock before the race.

Preachinatthebar, the 4-5 favorite, was fifth.

Pat Day rode Royal Assault ($9.60), who completed 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track in 1:45.63. Royal Assault will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Sarava, who scored an upset in the 2002 Belmont after taking the Sir Barton.

Zito had hoped to take his best shot on Saturday in the Preakness with The Cliff's Edge, but that colt was scratched because of a bruised right front foot. Zito's lone Preakness starter was Sir Shackleton.

The Cliff's Edge could recover in time to join the Belmont field. Birdstone also could represent Zito in the Belmont.

"I actually toyed with the idea of running this horse in the Preakness," Zito said, "but I said let's just keep gradually trying to develop these horses like we do."

Royal Assault, a 3-year-old colt by Kris S., was bred and is owned by Tracy Farmer. He was fifth in the Wood Memorial in his last start. He has now won twice in five starts.