12/10/2003 12:00AM

Would-be champ back to run

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Silver Wagon will race beyond seven furlongs for the first time Saturday, which trainer Ralph Ziadie sees as no problem.

MIAMI - Silver Wagon came out of nowhere to assume leadership of the 2-year-old division with a decisive victory over the then-undefeated Chapel Royal in Saratoga's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. But when he missed the Champagne because of a minor respiratory ailment and was away from the races 15 weeks, some people jumped off the Silver bandwagon.

Silver Wagon will attempt to win back those supporters and perhaps even pick up a few more when he makes his eagerly awaited return in Calder's $100,000 What a Pleasure Stakes on Saturday. The 1 1/16-mile What a Pleasure is one of four races on Saturday's Grand Slam I program, which was drawn Wednesday. A field of 10 2-year-olds colts was entered for the What a Pleasure, with Silver Wagon set to break from post 1 under Jerry Bailey, who has ridden him in two of his three starts.

The What a Pleasure will be a test for Silver Wagon in many ways. He must not only prove he is more than a one-shot wonder but also demonstrate the ability to stay a distance of ground in his first start around two turns. His connections are hoping that a big performance could put him in consideration for an Eclipse Award in the wide-open 2-year-old division.

Silver Wagon rallied from far back to finish second in a 6 1/2-furlong race at Calder in his debut in June. He raced closer to the pace in his second start and won a seven-furlong maiden race at Saratoga by 7 1/2 lengths. In the Hopeful, he took the lead from Chapel Royal in midstretch and drew off to win by four.

The What a Pleasure will be Silver Wagon's only prep for his next major objective, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 14.

Ralph Ziadie, who trains Silver Wagon for Mahmoud Fustok's Buckram Oak Farm, has approached the What a Pleasure cautiously, and he waited until Tuesday before making a final decision to run.

"He got a little tired when I worked him a mile last week, and I wanted to give him one more good work and see how he handled it before we decided," said Ziadie. "I thought he worked well enough on Monday to start. He's probably about 95 percent fit at this point, and if we don't win this race it won't be the end of the world."

Ziadie had hoped to give Silver Wagon a mile race in the Champagne, which would have given him more options leading up to his 3-year-old campaign. Because he missed that race, Ziadie felt it necessary to stretch Silver Wagon out before the Fountain of Youth.

"I just think getting a two-turn race under his belt at this point was best for the horse," said Ziadie.

"I could have waited a little longer for an allowance race at the end of this meet, but what if the race didn't fill? Then I'd have been in trouble.

"Saturday he'll get the chance to learn what it's like to go around two turns and to feel comfortable doing it."

Even though Silver Wagon - a son of the 1998 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, Wagon Limit - has yet to run beyond seven furlongs, Ziadie is confident his colt will handle longer distances.

"The way he's run in his races and the way he trains in the morning makes me feel like he'll go two turns without any problem," said Ziadie. "I believe the further he goes the better he'll like it. But of course you never really know until they actually do it in the afternoon."

If all goes according to plan, Ziadie will be taking the same path with Silver Wagon he bravely blazed a year ago with Trust N Luck, who used an easy victory in the What a Pleasure as a stepping-stone to his 4 1/2-length triumph in the Fountain of Youth.

"Everybody second-guessed me for going right from the What a Pleasure into the Fountain of Youth with Trust N Luck," said Ziadie. "But I knew my horse. Obviously Silver Wagon is a little behind Trust N Luck at this point of the season, because Trust N Luck already had won going two turns in the Stallion Stakes prior to the What a Pleasure. But like I said, I'm confident this horse won't have any problem getting the extra distance."

Silver Wagon is one of two major players in the division for Buckram Oak, who also has Grade 2 Breeders' Futurity winner Eurosilver stabled at the Palm Meadows training center with Nick Zito. Ziadie said he is not concerned about what plans might be in store this winter for Eurosilver.

"I just worry about my horse," said Ziadie. "I'll let [Buckram Oak] worry about the others. Chances are the two horses won't meet until hopefully we both get to Kentucky for the Derby."