05/31/2005 11:00PM

Silver Wagon does his trainer proud


MIAMI - Silver Wagon may have appeared a bit ambitiously placed, and it may have seemed a waste of time shipping all the way up to Belmont Park from his Calder base to take on Ghostzapper and Forest Danger in Monday's Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.

But trainer Ralph Ziadie was supremely confident in his horse and proved he knew what he was doing when the 35-1 Silver Wagon rallied to easily be second behind an awesome Ghostzapper in the one-mile Metropolitan.

Ziadie already had a history of surprising New Yorkers in Grade 1 races. He won both the Met Mile and Cigar Mile with Sir Bear, and the Hopeful with Silver Wagon.

A son of Wagon Limit owned by Mahmoud Fustok's Buckram Oak Farm, Silver Wagon went five starts and nearly 18 months before winning another race after his 4 1/2-length triumph in the 2003 Hopeful. The majority of that time was spent recuperating from surgery to remove a chip from the upper joint in his left knee as well as a spur in his right knee discovered shortly after Silver Wagon's third-place finish in the 2004 Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Silver Wagon opened his 2005 campaign with a 1 3/4-length allowance victory over Value Plus at Gulfstream Park. He followed that performance by finishing fourth in the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup and third in the Commonwealth BC, both Grade 2 events at seven furlongs.

"I thought he ran huge the other day," Ziadie said shortly before Silver Wagon returned from New York on Wednesday. "To run second to Ghostzapper, who may be the best horse we've seen in the last 15 years, is like we won the race."

Silver Wagon rallied from 15 lengths behind to finish second in the Met Mile, but Ziadie said dropping that far off the pace was not exactly the plan.

"For some reason he just hasn't been showing his usual speed over the last several races," said Ziadie. "Maybe it's just a matter of him learning to relax as he's gotten older. I would really like to see him sit a little closer because it gives him a little more work to do when he drops that far out of it, but we're not going to change anything or force him to run early since he seems to be doing so well right now."

Ziadie said he's undecided where Silver Wagon will run back, although obviously Calder's Grade 2, $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap on July 9 is an option.

"Right now I just want to make sure he comes out of this race all right," said Ziadie. "Mr. Fustok is in Saudi Arabia, but when he returns we'll sit down and map out a plan. One thing I know for sure is that this horse likes Saratoga, so our long-range goal for the summer would likely be something there. I would also like to keep him sprinting for the rest of the year. He seems to enjoy one turn with his best distance probably being a one-turn mile."

$4 wager hits for $73,000

Calder's guaranteed $100,000 pick nine pool was finally hit last week, 23 days into the meet, by Claude Baptiste, a 54-year-old former airline chef from Carol City, Fla.

Baptiste, a Calder regular for more than 30 years, received a payoff of $73,000 following the 27 percent takeout from the pool. The total pool had not reached $100,000 during the 23-day period the bet was offered, so the track had to make up the difference.

Baptiste said he wagered a total of only $4, four separate $1 combinations, to hit the winning ticket. The majority of those winners were favorites, with Fortunate Angel ($10.40) the highest payout during the nine-race sequence.

Undaunted by Baptiste's success, Calder has put up another $100,000 to seed a second

pick nine pool, which began Saturday.

* Mertie M. will return to the allowance ranks after being overmatched against stakes company in her last start and could be the slight favorite against six other fillies and mares in Friday's $28,000 feature. The 5 1/2-furlong optional claiming sprint also drew Legend, Runaway Rizzi, Inlet Moon, Uchita, and Ain't It Sweep.

* Saturday's $100,000 Office Queen Stakes drew a field of only seven 3-year-old fillies, including two each from the barns of trainers David Brownlee and Rodolfo Garcia. Brownlee will send out likely favorite Dansetta Light along with Wise Briana, while Garcia counters with the red-hot Snug Harbour and Babaganush. Leona's Knight, Classy Witch, and Crazy Caro round out the lineup.

* Jockey Josue' Arce lost three pounds of his 10-pound apprentice allowance after guiding My Man Mason to victory in Tuesday's second race. The win was the fifth victory of Arce's riding career.