03/06/2008 12:00AM

Cool Coal Man points to Blue Grass

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Nick Zito said Wednesday that in all likelihood Fountain of Youth winner Cool Coal Man will skip the $1 million Florida Derby and instead use Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes as his final Kentucky Derby prep.

Cool Coal Man is perfect in two starts over the local strip, having won an entry-level allowance race prior to his half-length victory over Elysium Fields in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Both those wins came at the same 1 1/8-mile distance as the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

"If he runs back in the Florida Derby, it would give him three tough, mile and one-eighth races in a row without any separation," explained Zito. "By waiting for the Blue Grass, it gives him a little extra time. And running over the Polytrack at Keeneland certainly wouldn't be a problem. It worked for Street Sense last year. He wouldn't necessarily have to win the race, just get something out of it."

Zito, who has four of the top 18 horses on this week's Derby Watch poll, including division leader War Pass, said he would still likely run something in the Florida Derby.

Big Brown impresses with allowance win

The Blue Grass gained another notable candidate several hours later, following Big Brown's 12 3/4-length victory in a first-level allowance race switched from the turf to a muddy main track.

Big Brown, a son of Boundary, was purchased privately by the IEAH Stables from Paul Pompa shortly after he won his career debut by 11 1/4 lengths over the Saratoga turf course in early September. Pompa retains a share in the horse.

"That was very impressive," trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. exclaimed while leaving the winner's circle. "He's been breezing like a rocket on both the turf and dirt at Palm Meadows, but the plan all along was for him to run on the turf, so I was worrying all day after they took this race off the grass. I guess it was for nothing."

Dutrow said both the timing of the Blue Grass and Keeneland's Polytrack surface were perfect fits for Big Brown's stakes debut.

"He had trouble with his feet after I first got him or he would have won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf," Dutrow said. "But I guess you can see from this performance his feet are fine now."

Big Brown was ridden to victory by jockey Kent Desormeaux, who was equally impressed with the effort.

"He was a little aggressive early on, then settled in nicely," Desormeaux said. "He was looking around a bit the first 200 yards but then he got the idea. He put on a big move into the stretch and then I gathered him back up at the end."

Golden Spikes headed to Florida Derby

Golden Spikes, who finished a close second behind Cool Coal Man under allowance conditions earlier this winter and a tiring fifth after setting a pressured pace in the Fountain of Youth, will make his next start in the $1 million Florida Derby.

Trainer Marty Wolfson said he had considered possibly turning Golden Spikes back to seven furlongs or a mile in races like the Bay Shore or Lafayette, but after conferring with the colt's owners decided to keep Golden Spikes on the Derby trail for now.

"I thought he ran well even though he tired during the latter stages of the Fountain of Youth," Wolfson said. "If he wasn't pushed all the way on the lead, I think he would have been close, and he was racing on the rail, which was dead that day, and I thought that kind of hurt his chances as well."

Wolfson said he'll remove the blinkers from Golden Spikes for the Florida Derby.

"He already proved he belongs with a horse like Cool Coal Man when they met earlier in the meet," Wolfson said. "It also sounds like the field will come up a lot shorter for the Florida Derby than the Fountain of Youth, and if it becomes a paceless race, I'd really love his chances."

Commentator, Chatain top Richter Scale

Zito will have one of the two major players in Saturday's $200,000 Richter Scale Handicap. His Grade 1 winner and recent track-record-setter Commentator will carry high weight of 123 pounds in a stellar field that also includes Chatain, Grand Champion, Louisiana invader Steve's Double, and King of the Roxy.

Commentator, winner of the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap in 2005, established a one-mile course record of 1:33.71 winning an allowance race here Jan. 17.

The Grade 2 Richter Scale is one of two stakes races on Saturday's card, along with the Grade 3 The Very One Handicap carded at 1 3/8 miles on the grass. The Very One drew a field of 11 fillies and mares led by highweight J'ray, Mauralakana, and Hostess.

* Jockey John Velazquez moved to within three wins of catching Eibar Coa atop the jockey standings after winning three races on Wednesday's card, including split divisions of a seven-furlong maiden special weight dash with promising 3-year-olds Keep Laughing and Ready's Echo.