03/05/2005 1:00AM

High Fly scores for Zito

Ridden by Jerry Bailey, High Fly (left) takes over from pacesetter B. B. Best (2) on his way to winning Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - High Fly added his name to trainer Nick Zito's growing list of Kentucky Derby hopefuls with a very professional three-quarter-length victory over Bandini in Saturday's $300,000 at Gulfstream Park.

High Fly was transferred to Zito's barn by owner Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation shortly after suffering his first setback in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5. He joined stablemates Sun King, Andromeda's Hero, and Noble Causeway, an allowance winner earlier on the card, as potential Derby contenders from the potent Zito barn.

High Fly broke alertly under jockey Jerry Bailey, who rode the son of Atticus for the first time in the Fountain of Youth, and stalked the pace of B. B. Best for seven furlongs under confident handling. High Fly wrested control from the stubborn leader entering the stretch and, after gradually edging clear, withstood a late surge from Bandini.

B. B. Best held on to finish third, three-quarters of a length behind Bandini. He was followed by Papi Chullo, Wild Desert, Park Avenue Ball, Defer, General John B, and Natural Phenomenon. Kansas City Boy and Dearest Mon were late scratches.

Despite coming off a loss in the Holy Bull, High Fly was sent off as the solid favorite in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and paid $4.20. His final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:49.70 over a track upgraded from good to fast earlier in the day.

"When he broke sharp, that helped us a lot, and I thought he was real impressive the way he hung in there," said Zito. "I was lucky to inherit a good horse, and I have to thank the people who had him before me, especially his previous trainer, Bill White. Fortunately he's fit into our system well."

Zito said he has no definite plans for High Fly's next start.

"My recommendation would be the Florida Derby, but I'll talk to the owner first before making any definite decisions," said Zito.

Trainer Todd Pletcher was delighted with Bandini's performance, even in defeat.

"I thought he ran huge - a great race for a horse making just his fourth lifetime start," said Pletcher. "We have a lot of possibilities for his next start, but the Florida Derby would obviously be one of the more favorable choices."