01/07/2013 1:30PM

Gulfstream Park: Zito-trained Eton Blue possible Kentucky Derby material

Barbara D. Livingston
Nick Zito trains the 3-year-old recent maiden winner Eton Blue, a Marylou Whitney homebred. “It would certainly be nice to have a Derby horse for Marylou," he said.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Nick Zito picked up three more victories over the weekend and may have found himself a potential Kentucky Derby contender or two in the process.

Eton Blue rallied from just off the pace to a half-length victory over stablemate Dyker Beach to win his maiden at second asking in the second division of a one-mile maiden special weight race for 3-year-olds Saturday. Zito came back the following afternoon to capture two more races, with Tuvia’s Force and Tiz Yankee.

Eton Blue is a homebred son of Giant’s Causeway out of Zito’s 2003 Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town. He is owned by Zito’s longtime client Marylou Whitney.

“It’s promising, and I’m very happy when my 3-year-olds can win a race like that at Gulfstream,” Zito said. “It would certainly be nice to have a Derby horse for Marylou. But she and her husband, John Hendrickson, are true horse people, and we’re going to go accordingly. If he makes it, he makes it, and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t.”

Eton Blue is the second Whitney homebred to have won his maiden here during the 2012-13 session, along with Mountain Eagle, who captured a similar one-mile maiden special weight race one month earlier.

“The way the thing is structured with the points, everybody is going to take their shot right towards the end,” Zito said, referring to the new system to determine which 3-year-olds will qualify for this year’s Kentucky Derby if the field overfills. “The best scenario would be just to get in that position with both these horses. If we can do that, I’ll take it. To desperately try the Fountain or Youth or something like that with this horse, I’m 99 percent sure that’s out of the question. That’s not the way [the Whitneys] do things. Even with Mountain Eagle, who looks like he could do that, I’m going to take my time. I got to be a horse trainer, that’s what I want to concentrate on now. If I have a Derby horse, I’ll be the first to know.”

Zito also was excited about Tiz Yankee’s performance Sunday. The victory was the second in the last three outings for the son of Tiznow who did not earn his diploma until the 12th start of his career, seven of which ended in second-place finishes. He also was runner-up behind Graydar’s 104-Beyer Speed Figure victory earlier in the meet.

Tiz Yankee set a leisurely pace, changed leads on cue at the top of the stretch – which he rarely does – and then dug in gamely to hold off Suns Out Guns Out to register a three-quarter-length victory Sunday. The tally avenged a setback at the hands of Suns Out Guns Out in a maiden race this summer at Saratoga.

“We have been happy as can be with Tiz Yankee, because every time he ran he got a check,” Zito said. “But on the other hand, when you finish second so many times, you get frustrated. It looks now like he’s finally putting it together. I think that Graydar would have beaten anybody that day. We probably digressed today from the 96 Beyer our horse earned in that race, but the good thing is he’s very consistent and these are the kind of races he would have lost before. It’s a long winter, and nothing would make me happier than for him to turn into a nice 4-year-old later on.”

The wins by Tuvia’s Choice and Tiz Yankee were two of the three victories posted by jockey Jose Lezcano on Sunday’s program, along with Blues and Silvers for trainer Kirk Ziadie in the sixth race. Sunday’s hat trick gave Lezcano 20 winners for the meet and placed him fourth in the standings, just four victories behind co-leaders Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario entering Wednesday’s program.

Looking Cool captured the first and slightly faster division of Saturday’s maiden special weight race for 3-year-olds for trainer Carl Nafzger, who like Zito has won the Kentucky Derby. Looking Cool, by Candy Ride out of the two-time stakes winner Coolwind, is owned by his breeder, Jim Tafel.