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Updated on 09/17/2011 10:07PM
It all came together nicely this meet
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Nick Zito came to Gulfstream Park this winter with one legitimate Kentucky Derby candidate, Sun King, and a number of young horses with promise. He left Sunday morning with five Kentucky Derby contenders and the Florida Derby trophy in his suitcase.
Zito raised a few eyebrows when he didn't nominate any of his 2-year-olds, including Sun King, when early nominations for the 2005 Florida Derby closed in November. It did not matter. When High Fly defeated stablemate Noble Causeway in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on Saturday, Zito became the first trainer since Lou Rondinello 30 years earlier to send out the first two finishers in Gulfstream's signature event.
"If I had several like Sun King in the barn I would have nominated a whole slew of them, but I didn't," Zito said several months ago. "But if you've got horses with promise, they'll run in the right stakes and nominate themselves as they go along."
Sun King progressed as Zito had hoped, winning an allowance race here in February and the Tampa Bay Derby in March. Noble Causeway and Andromeda's Hero were still maidens when they began their 3-year-old campaigns, but both blossomed over the winter. Neither High Fly nor Bellamy Road, who was one of the more impressive allowance winners of the meeting, were even in Zito's barn when the year began.
"Last year I came here with three terrific 2-year-olds and things didn't work out," Zito said. "But this winter's been incredible. Everything just fell into place."
About the only bumps in the road Zito encountered with his top 3-year-olds since the beginning of the meet came on Florida Derby week. It began with the postponement of High Fly's final work because of a slight temperature and continued after both High Fly and Noble Causeway were shipped from Palm Meadows into Gulfstream, where they were forced to train after 10 a.m. each morning because of the restrictions placed upon the barn due to the recent strangles outbreak at the training center. In the end, the distractions proved little more than mere inconveniences for Zito and his two Kentucky Derby-bound 3-year-olds.
"Sometimes you just have to adjust to the situation," Zito said shortly before departing to Kentucky with High Fly and Noble Causeway on Sunday morning. "It was a strain this last week, but it worked out. I'm a corny guy, but God was rocking me in his arms this week giving me cool weather to train in every day as well as for the race Saturday."
Zito couldn't say enough about High Fly or Noble Causeway, both of whom will likely train right up to the Kentucky Derby.
"That horse High Fly is something," Zito said. "He's just so tough. And I was really proud of Noble Causeway. He runs one stakes race all winter, and it's the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He's a legitimate horse."
None of the seven horses who chased High Fly and Noble Causeway home in the Florida Derby are likely to run in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said B. B. Best came out of his third-place finish in the Florida Derby in good order but that the Derby is not in his plans.
"We're going to evaluate him after a few days and see where we want to go next, but we've already decided it won't be Kentucky," said Plesa. "There will be plenty of opportunities around the country for him. I'll give him a week or so off and then possibly send him up with my string in New York around the first of May."
Trainer Jim Ryerson said he was pleased with fourth-place finisher Park Avenue Ball's performance on Saturday but that he was not going on to the Derby.
Mighty Mecke, who suffered his first defeat in three career starts when he finished fifth in the Florida Derby, is headed for a brief rest at Fair Hill training center in Maryland.
"I thought he ran well considering the trip he had," said trainer Steve Klesaris. "He's still green and inexperienced, but he's a nice horse and he'll get better as he matures. He'll go to Fair Hill from here and won't see a race for at least another 30 days."
Trainer Salvador Gonzalez said Sunday that his maiden Papi Chullo, who finished seventh, will return to California for a little break.
"The rider said he heard him start gurgling during the race, and when we scoped him back at the barn we found he had bled," said Gonzalez. "He had never done that in California, but he also bled down here after a workout, so we'll take him home and give him a little rest for now."
McPeek adds Indian horses to roster
Like Zito, trainer Ken McPeek was also returning to Kentucky on Sunday. McPeek has been a world traveler the past several weeks, stopping in India on his way home from Dubai, where he started two horses on the Dubai World Cup undercard.
"The leading breeder in India, Pawan Bhatia, asked me to come look over his horses and pick out five to run in the U.S. this year," McPeek said. "I culled it down to three, one of whom I believe could be good enough to race anywhere. He's unnamed at the moment, but I think he's going to be called Shah Jahan.
"All three horses I'm getting are 2-year-olds, two colts and a filly. It's an experiment. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Like Zito, McPeek will also be busy on the Kentucky Derby trail the next couple of weeks. He will start Kansas City Boy in the Illinois Derby and Wild Desert in the Arkansas Derby.
Motion entry main threat in feature
Trainer Graham Motion's entry of Code Cracker and Silver Flower tops a strong group of second-level allowance horses in Wednesday's $35,000 feature.
Code Cracker returned from a brief illness to win a first-level allowance by 11 1/2 lengths March 9. Silver Flower is coming off a fifth-place finish in his turf debut. He posted a 95 Beyer in his second-place finish behind Kennel Up on Feb. 4.
The main opposition to the Motion entry will come from Shaniko, who has not started since finishing far back in the Grade 2 Dwyer on July 11; Nakayama Kun, second in a seven-furlong second-level allowance dash Feb. 26; and Ecclesiastic.