01/08/2003 1:00AM

Allowance hits spot for Zito colt


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Whenever Nick Zito has found an allowance race for American Style, the colt has tended to run well. Zito seriously considered the Hal's Hope on Saturday as the next race for American Style, but instead will run him Friday in a fourth-level allowance at Gulfstream Park.

That leaves Najran as the Hal's Hope starter for Zito and owner Buckram Oak Farm, under whose green-and-red silks both 4-year-old colts compete. Zito said he originally sought a classified allowance race for Najran, but "when nothing came up, we kind of switched them around," he said.

Friday's less-demanding spot is not necessarily an easy one for American Style, although he has finished first or second the last four times he has run in an allowance race. Interspersed among those races were a handful of stakes attempts, probably the best of which was a third-place finish in the Dwyer at Belmont in July.

Several of his six rivals in Friday's $40,000 feature, a mile and 70-yard route that goes as the ninth of 10 races, also can boast stakes experience, the most notable being Keats, who led gate to wire in the 2001 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. In fact, every horse in the race has run in a stakes at least once, including Baseball Champion, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes last fall.

American Style last raced in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap on Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs, where he finished eighth behind Lido Palace. Since then, he has maintained a steady work schedule at Gulfstream, ending with a half-mile blowout in 47.40 seconds Monday.

Probably the most dangerous rival for American Style is Keats, even though the colt finished sixth and last in his most recent start. Trainer Niall O'Callaghan suspected Keats might have needed that Nov. 26 sprint at Churchill Downs because the horse had not raced in nearly nine months, and considering the stretchout Friday, Keats should be able to flaunt his speed from the outset.

Speed Hunter, a winner at the Churchill fall meet, and Justification, a winner at Aqueduct in his latest, are two more worthy opponents.

Another allowance race directly precedes the feature. Perfectly Stunning, beaten as the odds-on favorite in her 2002 finale, figures to be favored to redeem herself for trainer

John T. Ward Jr. in an entry-level sprint that drew a field of eight 4-year-old fillies.

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