03/24/2009 11:00PM

Injury sidelines Beethoven

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - On Monday morning, trainer John Ward was singing the praises of Beethoven and looking forward to running his latest 3-year-old star in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. A little more than 24 hours later, Ward's dreams of winning a second Kentucky Derby were all but gone after Beethoven came down with a minor injury that will force him to miss Saturday's important Derby prep.

Ward, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, said he discovered something was amiss with Beethoven when he returned to his barn to check his horses Tuesday evening.

"I noticed something wasn't quite perfect, that he had a slight spot on his tendon," Ward explained shortly after announcing Beethoven was officially out of the Florida Derby during training hours Wednesday. "It's very minimal. In fact, I could probably run him if I wanted to. But it would be the effect it had on his next start that I'd have to be concerned about, and I'm always one to be conservative by nature."

Ward said he would bring Beethoven back to Kentucky and re-evaluate his condition in a couple of weeks.

"I'm glad we caught it in a stage where this should just be a blip on the screen and not something that could eventually keep him out for the whole year," Ward said. "It will put us off the Derby trail, but I figure we'll see him back in the game by early summer."

Commentator can't find an allowance

Trainer Nick Zito was hoping to get a race into his venerable old warrior Commentator before breaking camp in south Florida this winter. But when an allowance race in the book for Saturday's Florida Derby undercard failed to fill, Zito was just about resigned to the fact he'll have to train Commentator up to his first goal this season, the Charles Town Classic on April 18.

"He's doing great and has been ready to run for a couple of weeks, but it's just been tough finding a race for him down here this winter," Zito said. "It's basically been a matter of bad timing on both parts, ours and the racing office, and not getting a break. So it looks like we'll have to go into West Virginia without a race under his belt."

Zito said Commentator will continue training at Palm Meadows before shipping directly to Charles Town for the Classic, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles. The Classic has bonus clauses written into the conditions that would make the race worth $1 million to a multiple Grade 1 winner such as Commentator.

Even with Commentator on the bench, Zito will still have plenty of action on Saturday, with horses entered in eight of the 12 races on the card, including Toby the Coal Man in the Florida Derby. Toby the Coal Man is coming off a maiden win going 1 1/8 miles earlier this month.

"I look at the Florida Derby as two races," Zito said. "The first race for the favorites, and the second race for horses like Toby. He's coming off a big effort, and I hope he'll be able to improve again. He's got plenty of seasoning around two turns and he's not the type who'll be mixing it up early. If he was that kind, I wouldn't have run him. He'll lay back, and if the first race falls apart he should be fine. Hopefully, he'll be able to make a late move and close on the big boys."

Gone Astray targets N.Y. allowance

Gone Astray, one of two top 3-year-olds prospects trainer Shug McGaughey brought south with him this winter along with Imperial Council, is out of the Derby picture but could be a force to reckon with in the division later this year.

Gone Astray, who rallied from last to finish fourth in the Grade 1 Champagne in his 2-year-old finale, launched his 3-year-old campaign finishing second behind Zito's Wood Memorial-bound Just a Coincidence in a first-level allowance race March 11. A son of Dixie Union, Gone Astray worked an easy half-mile in 51.60 seconds here Wednesday.

"He'll be shipping up to New York to run in an allowance race on Wood Day," McGaughey advised after Wednesday's work. "Right now, I'm taking it pretty much day by day with him, but if he were to run good in his next start, I might consider bringing him back in a race like the Withers."

* Saturday's 12-race Florida Derby undercard also will feature another appearance by Barbaro's baby brother Nicanor, who will go a mile under maiden special weight conditions in the afternoon's fifth event. Nicanor rebounded from his disappointing career debut with a solid second-place effort behind the odds-on favorite Custom for Carlos on Marcho7. That performance figures to see him go postward as the public's choice against his eight rivals Saturday.