09/02/2004 11:00PM

Zito will have two shots to pull another upset


In a town where they once booed Santa Claus, one could only wonder what kind of reception Nick Zito would receive if he were to show up Monday at Philadelphia Park for the Grade 2 .

Zito is the trainer of Birdstone, who handed hometown hero Smarty Jones his only defeat in the Belmont Stakes in June. Furthermore, Birdstone's victory in last Saturday's Travers puts him in position to vault past Smarty Jones for the Eclipse Award as the division's top 3-year-old.

Zito will be there in spirit and horseflesh only, however, as he will send his assistant, Tim Poole, to saddle both Royal Assault and Pies Prospect in the Pennsylvania Derby, which drew a field of 12. The Pennsylvania Derby, run at 1 1/8 miles, was supposed to feature Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones - who was based at Philadelphia Park - before that horse was retired.

Zito said he would be busy running horses in Saratoga on Monday, but he did offer to send a cardboard caricature of himself to put in the paddock before the race. "I would like to be there," Zito said, "but I got a lot going on here."

In Royal Assault and Pies Prospect, Zito sends out two horses with a puncher's chance of upsetting 3-1 morning line favorite Tapit, who was saddled with post 12 at Friday's draw.

Royal Assault, who won the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico, has since run back in three graded events. He finished third in the Belmont and Long Branch and fourth in the Haskell Invitational. Royal Assault, who breaks from post 6 under Pat Day, gets blinkers for the first time.

Pies Prospect won the Floor Show Stakes at Delaware Park in June, but finished a troubled third in the Leonard Richards and a creditable third in the Haskell. Pies Prospect, owned by Robert LaPenta, drew post 3 and will be ridden by C.C. Lopez.

"I thought both horses ran great in the Haskell," Zito said. "Pies Prospect is getting better and better."

Tapit is the only Grade 1 winner in the field, having taken the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in April. Tapit hasn't run since finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby. This will be his first start since undergoing surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis. Ramon Dominguez rides.

Pollard's Vision, winner of the Grade 2 Illinois Derby and Grade 3 Leonard Richards, drew post 8 and was the 4-1 second choice on the morning line. He will be ridden by John Velazquez.

My Snookies Boy, second to Lion Heart in both the Long Branch and Haskell, drew the rail and was made the 6-1 third choice on the morning line. Stewart Elliott, the regular rider of Smarty Jones, has the mount.

Master David, Niigon, Swingforthefences, Separato, Love of Money, Wimplestiltskin, and Song of the Sword complete the field.

The Pennsylvania Derby goes as race 10 on an 11-race card that begins at 12:05 p.m. Eastern.

* Hopelessly Devoted and Schedule, both of whom finished second in stakes company last out, head a 10-horse field entered in the $100,000 Pennsylvania Oaks.

* Stakes winners Baldomera, Smooth Maneuvers, and Ladyecho top a 10-horse field entered in the $75,000 Steve Van Buren Handicap at seven furlongs.