01/12/2008 1:00AM

Big year looks in offing for Einstein


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Helen Pitts let out a big sigh of relief before breaking out into an even bigger smile following Einstein's triumphant return from an eight-month vacation on Friday. Einstein, making his first start since losing his rider during the running of the Dixie Handicap at Pimlico in May, led throughout under jockey Edgar Prado to beat a top-quality allowance field going a mile and kick off what Pitts hopes will be his best year yet.

"I thought I had put him in the right spot for his first start back, then was kind of second-guessing myself after seeing how tough the race had come up," said Pitts. "Fortunately everything worked out okay. Edgar couldn't have ridden him any better. I told him to just play things out after the break, and I was a little surprised he was in front so quickly because Einstein is such a big horse and doesn't always get in gear that fast out of the gate. But once I saw them put up 24 and change for the opening quarter I felt better, and when he's out in front like that he's very tough to get by."

Einstein, now 6, has done his best work on grass, with his most important victory coming over the local turf course in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup in 2006. But he has also won on dirt, and Pitts is contemplating several options for his next start, including the Grade 1 Donn Handicap Feb. 2.

"The Donn is an option," said Pitts. "We'll just see how the race comes up and how he's doing before making any decisions."

Chelokee getting ready to return

Chelokee, who many observers felt could have won the 2007 Florida Derby with a cleaner trip, has resumed training after missing the final half of his 3-year-old campaign due to a minor ankle problem.

Chelokee was beaten two lengths by Scat Daddy in last year's Florida Derby despite being trapped behind a wall of horses turning into the stretch and having to alter course near midstretch. That loss was the only blemish on Chelokee's record in his final four starts at 3, which included victories in the Barbaro and Northern Dancer stakes.

"We stopped on him last summer because he was sore in all four fetlocks," said trainer Michael Matz. "He had no chips or anything, but he lit up in all four ankles when given a scintigraphy exam."

Chelokee, who also has had an undescended testicle removed since his last start, worked three furlongs in 35.60 seconds Friday morning at Palm Meadows.

"He's matured an awful lot since he left us last summer," said Matz. "He worked very easily the other day and we'll stretch him out to a half-mile for the next one. If all goes well, perhaps he'll being able to run sometime near the end of the meet."

Zito works two Derby hopefuls

Trainer Nick Zito sent out a couple of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Anak Nakal and Fierce Wind, to work half-miles on Saturday at Palm Meadows. Anak Nakal, winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in his 2-year-old finale, went in an easy 51.80. He is pointing for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 24. Fierce Wind, an impressive maiden winner at Calder to close out his juvenile campaign, drilled in 48.

A few hours later, Zito's list of Derby hopefuls grew even larger with a victory by Bordeaux Bandit going a mile against maiden special weight competition in Saturday's seventh race.

Bordeaux Bandit is a son of Vindication and a half-brother to Zito's 2005 Florida Derby runner-up Noble Causeway. Bordeaux Bandit had finished fourth after stumbling leaving the starting gate in his only other start, which came going six furlongs at Calder on Nov. 23.

"One thing about this horse, he's got the pedigree," Zito said Saturday. "Noble Causeway never got a break. Maybe his little brother will get one."

* Saturday's work tab at Palm Meadows featured the names of several other prominent horses gearing up for their 2008 debuts.

Lear's Princess, the only horse to defeat Rags to Riches last season when she upset the Grade 1 Gazelle, went three furlongs in 37.40. Her stablemate Daaher, the Grade 1 Cigar Mile winner, breezed a half-mile in 49.80 in preparation for his return, which trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has penciled in for the Donn.