09/02/2003 11:00PM

Silver Wagon is toast of the backstretch


MIAMI - Seven weeks ago Silver Wagon departed south Florida for Saratoga with little fanfare, an unheralded maiden who finished second in his only start. On Thursday, the son of Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Wagon Limit returned home here at Calder as the toast of the backstretch and one of the top-ranked 2-year-olds in the country, following his victory over the previously undefeated Chapel Royal in Saturday's Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga.

Silver Wagon's sudden ascent to the top of the 2-year-old males division took everyone by surprise - everyone, that is, except his trainer, Ralph Ziadie.

"Going into the Hopeful I was very confident," said Ziadie, while en route home to Florida on Wednesday. "He should have won his first start at Calder, but he got stuck on the rail and had to go way outside - and five furlongs was probably a little too short for him anyway. But he won his maiden so convincingly and worked better than he had in his entire life the Monday before the Hopeful. I told Jerry Bailey's agent [Ron Anderson] that this horse was going to win. To please ride the horse for me in the big race."

The rest is history. Silver Wagon, who is owned by Mahmoud Fustok's Buckram Oak Farm, rated off the early pace then exploded through the stretch under Bailey to run away from the odds-on Chapel Royal and win the Hopeful by four widening lengths.

Ziadie said immediately after Silver Wagon's victory that the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was definitely not on his colt's itinerary.

"I'll sit down with Mr. Fustok when he returns to Florida next week and we'll discuss what direction to take with the colt," said Ziadie. "Everything is still up in the air right now. The Champagne could be a possibility for his next start, although we won't make any decisions until I see how he handles the trip back from New York.

"At this point, I'd still say the Breeders' Cup is still very unlikely. The Kentucky Derby is the number-one goal, and we don't want to overdo it with him this fall."

Silver Wagon's performance in the Hopeful helped ease some of the pain Ziadie felt after losing his top 3-year-old, Trust N Luck, to a suspensory injury sustained only days before he was to start in the King's Bishop Handicap.

"He hurt himself in his final work before the King's Bishop," said Ziadie. "He's already undergone surgery, and the veterinarians feel confident he should be able to come back 100 per cent next season - although at this point it's still uncertain what his future will be. " Owner Einar Robsham, said Ziadie, "was considering retiring the horse, so we'll have to discuss the situation before making a definite decision."

Trust N Luck put Ziadie on the Kentucky Derby trail for the first time last winter by winning the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes and finishing second behind Empire Maker in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. But after coming out of the Florida Derby with a minor respiratory problem and finishing a disappointing fourth in the Lexington Stakes, Trust N Luck went to the sidelines for the remainder of the spring.

"The Saratoga meet had been a little discouraging up until Silver Wagon won the Hopeful," said Ziadie, who also sent out Regal Bear, the fifth-place finisher in the Grade 3 Saranac on closing day. "That certainly picked my head up a little bit. This was my first full summer at Saratoga, and I learned a lot from this trip. And if I have the horses I plan to come back again next year."