06/04/2003 11:00PM

State City tries to prove class in True North


ELMONT, N.Y. - The Grade 2 True North Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park is loaded with predictable horses among its seven entrants. Pioneer Boy will go to the lead. Shake You Down will follow or contest. Here's Zealous will lay off. Highway Prospector will try to close off the hot pace.

So where does that leave State City, the lone Group 1 winner in the field? That's the biggest question facing horseplayers in the six-furlong True North.

In his last start, State City won the Group 1, $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen Stakes at Nad Al Sheba racecourse in Dubai, one of the richest sprint races in the world, under 130 pounds. But before that race, State City - who is owned by the powerful Dubai-based Godolphin Stable - had not shown he was a world-beater. He had a couple of listed stakes wins on his resume, and a third to the well-regarded Essence of Dubai in early 2002, but little else.

"We've thought he was a nice horse all along," said Tom Albertrani, the trainer for Godolphin's New York-based horses. "He ran a really good race that night [in the Golden Shaheen], but really, the only time he didn't run well, we thought, was in that race on the turf."

On Jan. 9 this year, State City was tried on the turf for the first time, but he finished seventh, beaten 12 3/4 lengths.

Albertrani said that State City will likely stalk out of the 1-hole, and the pacesetters almost certainly figure to be the streaking Pioneer Boy and Shake You Down, two recent claims who have undergone remarkable transformations since changing barns.

Shake You Down, who was claimed for $65,000 by trainer Scott Lake for owner Robert Cole on March 12, has posted the top Beyer Speed Figures this year - two 118's - for any race up to a mile. Both figures were posted in the slop in six-furlong money allowance races.

Prior to the claim, Shake You Down was struggling to compete in high-priced optional claiming races in Maryland and allowance races in Delaware. After being claimed, the horse was given a month-long layoff, during which he gained approximately 200 pounds, Lake said.

"He just started doing everything right," said Lake. "I don't know what it was. We wormed him. We did his teeth, all the things we normally do, and he started doing great."

Pioneer Boy, part of a two-horse entry from owner Michael Gill, won the Grade 3 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap in his last start. The horse has won three of his last four starts since being claimed for $30,000 by Gill and placed with John Robb.

* Trekking tries dirt for the first time in the $65,000 Affirmed Stakes at a mile Saturday. Trekking ran second in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita Park in her last start. Trekking will face 10 other horses in the Affirmed.