11/30/2004 1:00AM

Decline in Fla. Derby noms

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Only 98 horses have been made early nominees to the Grade 1 Florida Derby for 2005, well down from the last two years. Absent from the list were any of the top finishers in this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile or a single horse from the barn of trainer Nick Zito, whose stable has been among the Florida Derby's biggest supporters over the past decade.

Zito's Sun King finished third in the Juvenile.

The $1 million Florida Derby is one of the key preps on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Traditionally scheduled on the second Saturday in March, the race has been moved back to April 2 for next year.

Topping the list of early nominees is Proud Accolade, who suffered his first career setback when he finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He is the only member from the Juvenile field currently nominated to the Florida Derby.

Gulfstream's racing secretary, Dave Bailey, said that a few trainers, including Zito, "said they preferred not to nominate early and instead have the option to nominate for each individual race in the Florida Derby series as they see fit."

The Florida Derby series also includes the Aventura, Holy Bull, Hutcheson, and Fountain of Youth. Any horse finishing in the top three in any of those races is automatically nominated to the Florida Derby. Supplementary nominations can also be made to the Florida Derby at the time of entry on March 30 for a cost of $25,000.