02/22/2006 1:00AM

Florida is Private Vow's training ground

Four-Footed Fotos
Private Vow, unraced since November, is slated for two stakes at Oaklawn.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Private Vow and Bluegrass Cat have a lot in common. Both finished their 2-year-old campaigns near the top of their division, both have spent the winter training at Palm Meadows, and neither will even see Gulfstream Park before heading back north early this spring.

Bluegrass Cat made his 3-year-old debut last weekend, winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and will return to the same venue for the Tampa Bay Derby on March 18.

Trainer Steve Asmussen has a slightly different itinerary planned for Private Vow, who is scheduled to have his two Kentucky Derby preps at Oaklawn in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby.

Private Vow, a son of Broken Vow, has not started since winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26. The victory came four weeks after he lost all chance once jockey John Velazquez's rein broke during the early stages of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"We're still suffering the hangover of the broken rein in the Breeders' Cup," Asmussen said. "Because of that we had to keep him running longer than we'd planned and bring him back for the race in Kentucky, which in turn pushed us back in terms of getting him started this winter."

Private Vow has been working steadily for the past month at Palm Meadows, where he worked six furlongs in 1:15.20 on Monday.

"It was his first six furlongs down here, and I was pleased with his energy at the wire," said Asmussen. "But personally I'm looking to add to that next week, when he'll work another six furlongs. Right now we're looking at the Rebel as his most probable starting point, and the best-case scenario would be to run in the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and then the big dance."

Fortunately for Asmussen, Private Vow already has enough graded stakes earnings so that he wouldn't have to worry about qualifying for the Derby should the race overfill.

"Fortunately there are a lot of things that we're not under the gun with him, and earnings is one of them," said Asmussen. "He's also been on a pretty good stage already, so experience-wise he should be okay. But it's time to get things going."

Asmussen has also mapped out plans for two of his other top 3-year-olds, Doctor Decherd and Noonmark.

"Doctor Decherd is going to Sunland Park for the Borderland Derby," said Asmussen. "It's time for him to make a living. Noonmark had his first work back on Monday since his allowance win, and we're hoping to run him in the Swale."

Doctor Decherd finished a tiring sixth in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Holy Bull Stakes after winning the one-mile Aventura earlier in the meet. Noonmark beat a strong field of allowance horses going six furlongs making his 3-year-old debut here earlier this month.

Zito to try again with pair

Trainer Nick Zito said he will likely send both Little Cliff and Hesanoldsalt back to Tampa for the Tampa Bay Derby on March 18 even though the pair finished fourth and sixth behind Bluegrass Cat last Saturday.

"I thought Little Cliff ran great from the outside post," said Zito. "Hesanoldsalt was disappointing, but he got a little wound up going into the race and never got hold of the track. If I take him back, I'll bring him in a few days early to get used to the surface. Obviously we're going to have to find a few more lengths with both of them to beat Bluegrass Cat the next time, but the timing of the race is good, and I always like the idea of chasing a good horse. We've got some promising 3-year-olds in the barn, and we're not off the trail with any of these horses, but it's time for them to start putting it all together."

Thinking big with Einstein

It doesn't take a genius to know Einstein will be taking a big leap forward going into Saturday's Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap off a second-level allowance win. But trainer Helen Pitts says the time is right to take the chance with the Brazilian-bred Einstein.

"I know it's a big jump, especially for a horse who only turned 3 last October," said Pitts. "But I think he's a pretty special horse who seems to be maturing with every start, and I think he has as much talent as Prince Arch, who won the race last year."

Pitts served as an assistant to trainer Ken McPeek, who sent out Prince Arch to win the 2005 Gulfsteam Park BC Handicap.

"There are some nice older horses going into this race on Saturday, but I think if you're looking to run in a Grade 1 race at a mile and seven-sixteenths, this is the place to do it, because the competition will probably only get tougher up north later in the year," said Pitts. "And the distance should be perfect for him, because the further he goes the better he'll like it."