03/27/2006 1:00AM

Florida Derby basically set


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - On the Monday before the 2005 Florida Derby, only six horses were mentioned as possible starters for the race, and three of those - High Fly, Bandini, and Closing Argument - had missed scheduled works that weekend. In the end, Bandini and Closing Argument scratched and the starting lineup swelled to nine. High Fly recovered in time from a slight temperature to defeat stablemate Noble Causeway and give trainer Nick Zito a sweep of the top two positions in the richest of North America's Kentucky Derby preps.

On the Monday before the 2006 Florida Derby, there was far less chaos and uncertainty. Race favorite Barbaro and likely second choice Flashy Bull worked as scheduled at Palm Meadows. Barring any unforeseen developments or an unlikely change of heart from trainer John Ward regarding the status of Strong Contender, the only real question that remains before the race is drawn Wednesday morning is which horse or horses Zito will enter in defense of his title.

Barbaro worked four furlongs in 48 seconds at Palm Meadows under regular exercise rider Peter Brett shortly after sunrise.

"He worked great and is ready to go," trainer Michael Matz said of Barbaro, the undefeated horse who will be ridden by Edgar Prado in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby.

Flashy Bull breezed a more leisurely four furlongs in 49.40 several minutes before Barbaro.

Zito remains noncommittal about his plans for the Florida Derby, although his two most likely candidates are Hesanoldsalt and Doc Cheney. Hesanoldsalt, who finished seventh in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on March 18, worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 at Gulfstream on Monday. A son of Broad Brush, Hesanoldsalt is owned by Live Oak Plantation, which also owns High Fly.

Trainer Anthony Pecoraro said Monday that he is leaning toward running Charming Image in the Florida Derby. Charming Image is 3 for 3 since being haltered from his 2-year-old finale at Calder for $25,000 by Pecoraro for owner Marc Wexler. All three of those victories have come under claiming tags.

The remainder of the prospective lineup for the Florida Derby includes Sharp Humor, Rehoboth, Sunriver, High Blues, and Saint Augustus.