03/30/2005 12:00AM

Favorites drop out, others fill in

Email

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When does six minus two equal nine?

That equation added up after top contenders Bandini and Closing Argument were not entered Wednesday in the $1 million Florida Derby, prompting several horses who previously were not under consideration for the race to be entered.

Only six 3-year-olds, including Bandini and Closing Argument, had been pointing for the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, but when foot bruises forced both out of the race, the field quickly swelled to nine.

High Fly, whose own status for the Florida Derby became temporarily unsettled when his final work was postponed on Saturday, will be favored over stablemate Noble Causeway. B.B. Best and Papi Chullo, third and fourth behind High Fly in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, were also entered, as expected. Rounding out the starting pineup are Vicarage, Park Avenue Ball, Wall Street Scandal, Might Mecke, and Evil Minister.

The Florida Derby, one of five stakes races on Saturday's Gulfstream Park card. will be televised live on ABC from 5 to 6 p.m Eastern. Post time for the main event is scheduled for 5:45 p.m.

High Fly contracted a slight temperature on Friday, missed his work Saturday, and was shipped from Palm Meadows to Gulfstream Park by trainer Nick Zito on Sunday. He then worked a solid half-mile in 48.40 seconds here Tuesday.

"He really missed only one day because of a temperature, and horses get temperatures all the time," Zito said Wednesday. "He looked good to me during his work yesterday, so I'm not really worried about it."

High Fly was transferred to Zito's barn following his third-place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes. He bounced back to beat Bandini in the Fountain of Youth under Jerry Bailey. He drew post 4 for Saturday and will again be ridden by Bailey in the Florida Derby.

Noble Causeway, a son of Giant's Causeway, is coming off a pair of impressive 1 1/8-mile victories here earlier in the meet. He drew post 1 and will be ridden for the first time by Edgar Prado.

"I'm very happy with the post positions both my horses drew," Zito said.

Trainer Rick Violette, who made the decision Tuesday to enter Wall Street Scandal after learning Bandini and Closing Argument would not start, was not so delighted to learn his horse drew post 8 in the nine-horse field.

"It's really disappointing," said Violette who scratched Dearest Mon rather than have him start from post 8 in the Fountain of Youth. "I might just put Wall Street Scandal on a van tonight for Keeneland, where I can run him over the grass in the Transylvania Stakes on opening day."

B. B. Best is expected to set the pace from post 2 in the Florida Derby, much as he did breaking from the rail in the Fountain of Youth.

Greg Norman, who owns the maiden Papi Chullo, raised a few eyebrows at the post position draw when he said he thought his horse was the horse to beat in the Florida Derby considering the rough trip he had in the Fountain of Youth.

"I think it's great when an owner has a lot of confidence in his horse," Zito said when asked about the comment.

FLORIDA DERBY
Purse: $1 million; Grade 1; 1 1/8 miles

Post Horse Jockey Odds
1 Noble Causeway E. Prado 2-1
2 B. B. Best J. Chavez 8-1
3 Park Avenue Ball R. Dominguez 20-1
4 High Fly J. Bailey 6-5
5 Vicarage J. Velazquez 5-1
6 Mighty Mecke C. Velasquez 20-1
7 Papi Chullo R. Albarado 8-1
8 Wallstreet Scandal J. Castellano 20-1
9 Evil Minister C. Potts 50-1

* All carry 122 pounds
Odds by Art Gropper