03/24/2006 1:00AM

Great Point out of key race


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Nick Zito will run a horse in the $1 million Florida Derby. But it won't be Great Point.

Great Point's courageous second-place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 4 thrust him into the national 3-year-old picture. But Great Point, a son of Point Given banged an ankle leaving the starting gate and did not beat a horse one month later in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. He has yet to recover from the effects of that mishap.

"We finally got his ankle straight, but then he wound up with some filling in one of his hocks," Zito explained. "Probably from trying to get off his front and onto his back legs. The X-rays are clean, but he just needs some more time."

Despite the setback, Zito has not counted Great Point out of the Kentucky Derby picture just yet.

"Hopefully down the road we'll be able to find a race to get him there," said Zito. "The timing is just bad to try to run him in the Florida Derby."

Zito has also not given up hope on Little Cliff despite his fourth-place finish behind Deputy Glitters and Bluegrass Cat in last Saturday's Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.

Little Cliff was fourth behind the same pair a month earlier in Tampa's Sam F. Davis Stakes.

"It looked like nobody really handled that track except the winner," said Zito. "But he seems to be progressing nicely, and we can build off that race. I still have good feelings about this horse."

Zito hasn't committed to Little Cliff's final Derby prep, but did offer the following hint.

"He won impressively at Keeneland when he broke his maiden," said Zito. "So you do the math."

Zito busy in handicaps, too

Zito figures to be quite busy here next weekend, not only in the Florida Derby but on the undercard, which features six other stakes, including a trio of Grade 3 races, the $150,000 Pan Am Handicap, the $150,000 Orchid Handicap and the $100,000 Skip Away Handicap.

Zito said the Skip Away is the next logical spot for Noble Causeway, who is coming off a sharp 1 1/4-length second-level allowance win here on March 5. Noble Causeway, who finished second behind stablemate High Fly in the 2005 Florida Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:01 at the Palm Meadows training center Friday.

Zito is also anxiously awaiting the return of Bellamy Road, who has not started since finishing second behind Flower Alley in the 2005 Travers.

"He should be in shortly," said Zito, adding that Edward Sexton, farm manager for George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, owner of Bellamy Road, "said he's doing fabulous at the farm. Obviously the plan was not to use him up early in the year but to point for the major races later in the season, with the Breeders' Cup Classic as the main goal."

While the Florida Derby lost Great Point it did gain another starter when trainer David Paulus confirmed High Blues will run. High Blues earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 94 finishing second to Sunriver under entry-level allowance conditions on March 4. Sunriver is also among the likely starters in a Florida Derby field that figures to include Barbaro, Flashy Bull, Saint Augustus, and Sharp Humor.

Skip Away may be tops

The Skip Away could turn out to be the best race of the day if Noble Causeway and Bandini both start. Bandini drew off to a 3 3/4-length optional claiming/allowance win here on March 1 in his first start since finishing far back in the Kentucky Derby. A son of Fusaichi Pegasus, he had captured the Grade 1 Blue Grass by six lengths and was second behind High Fly here last winter in the Fountain of Youth.

The 1 1/8-mile Skip Away drew 20 nominations, with the potential starting lineup also including Contante, It's No Joke, Network, O'Connell's, On Thin Ice, We Can Seek and Whos Crying Now, according to Dave Bailey, Gulfstream's racing secretary.

Einstein and Go Deputy, who finished a neck apart in that order in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap earlier in the meet, could meet again in the 1 1/2-mile Pan Am. Other possible starters include El Duque, Go Deputy, Ramazutti, Scooter Roach, Silver Whistle, Watershed Event, and perhaps Interpatation, Quest Star, and Broadway View.

* Jockey Edgar Prado won three more races on Thursday's card and continues to work his way up the jockey standings. Prado, who will be aboard the unbeaten Barbaro in the Florida Derby, is currently fourth behind John Velazquez, Cornelio Velasquez, and Rafael Bejarano with 57 wins at the session.

* Only three horses contested Friday's seventh race, won by the 3-5 favorite, Bill's No Trouble. The 6 1/2-furlong mid-priced claiming dash had drawn a field of six but lost half the original lineup with the late scratches of Choctaw Charlie, Layton, and the 6-5 morning-line favorite, Salute the Count.