12/11/2003 12:00AM

Silver Wagon risky at a short price

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Silver Wagon returns from a 15-week vacation in Saturday's $100,000 What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder.

MIAMI - Conventional wisdom suggests that taking a short price on a good horse - even a Grade 1 winner - returning from a layoff is a very poor betting strategy when that horse has more important objectives down the road. Bettors may want to heed that advice when Hopeful winner Silver Wagon returns from a 15-week vacation in Saturday's $100,000 at Calder.

The What a Pleasure is one of four stakes worth $100,000 each on Saturday's Grand Slam I program. The others are the Three Ring, Kenny Noe Sr. Handicap, and Grade 3 Chaposa Springs Handicap. The events also make up an all-stakes pick four wager.

On paper, Silver Wagon, with Jerry Bailey aboard, appears to stand out over his nine rivals in the 1 1/16-mile What a Pleasure, and he figures to go postward a solid favorite. But taking a small price may not be worth the risk on a 2-year-old who is making his first start in nearly four months, trying two turns for the first time, and using the race as his only prep for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 14.

"He's probably about 95 percent fit coming into the race," said Ralph Ziadie, who trains Silver Wagon for Buckram Oak Farm. "Saturday he'll get the chance to learn what it's like to go two turns and to feel comfortable doing it."

For those looking to beat the favorite, the best options are Second of June and Canadian invader Smoocher.

Second of June has yet to win a stakes, although he did finish second to the promising Stolen Time in the Foolish Pleasure here this fall. Second of June has since returned to capture a first-level allowance race going a mile and is training brilliantly up to the What a Pleasure for trainer Bill Cesare.

"My colt is a big, goofy horse who still hasn't figured it out yet, but I think he's got a lot of talent," Cesare said. "This is going to be a real test. I think Ralph's horse is great, and if you think you've got a good one, you can't duck anybody this time of year. You have to show up and see what you've got."

Smoocher finished second in the Sovereign Award voting for Canada's top 2-year-old this season. He is also a Grade 2 winner, having captured the Grey Breeders' Cup at Woodbine before chasing home Sovereign Award winner Judiths Wild Rush in the Display Stakes. Smoocher then shipped south to Florida for the winter.

Smoocher is coupled in the wagering with the locally based Zakocity as an entry for owner John Franks.