04/04/2011 2:42PM

Kentucky Derby: Zito unfazed by Dialed In's slow winning time in Florida Derby

Bob Coglianese
Dialed In, who won the Florida Derby (above), worked four furlongs in 48.53 at Palm Meadows Thursday morning.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – One year after finishing a troubled-trip second in the Kentucky Derby with Ice Box, owner Robert LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito are positioned to make another charge at the blanket of roses with Dialed In, who, like Ice Box in 2010, enters the race off a last-to-first victory in the Florida Derby.

“We’re like Butler,” Zito said, referring to the men’s college basketball team that made it back to Monday night’s championship game of the NCAA tournament after falling a basket short of winning last year’s championship. “We’re blessed.”

Adding the Florida Derby to his victory in the Grade 3 Holy Bull earlier in the meet, Dialed In established himself – for the moment at least – as a potential second choice behind Uncle Mo for the May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Uncle Mo will be in action this Saturday as a prohibitive favorite against seven or eight opponents in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, one of three major preps on the Derby trail. Also on Saturday, San Felipe winner Premier Pegasus heads a field of 11 probables for the $1 million Santa Anita Derby in California, while Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go heads the field for Saturday’s $300,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

FLORIDA DERBY WRAP-UP: Watch Mike Welsch's video recap

By virtue of winning the Florida Derby and capturing the Grade 3 Holy Bull earlier in the meet, Dialed In becomes eligible to earn the Preakness 5.5 bonus of $5.5 million if he were to also go on to win the Preakness on May 21.

There will be varying interpretations of Sunday’s $1 million Florida Derby in which Dialed In needed almost every foot of the Gulfstream Park stretch to run down pacesetting 68-1 longshot Shackleford to win by a head. Dialed In’s final time of 1:50.07 for 1 1/8 miles was nearly a full second slower than R Heat Lightning’s time of 1:49.09 for winning Saturday’s Gulfstream Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at the same distance. Dialed In earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure, the lowest figure for the race since Friends Lake got a 92 in 2004. R Heat Lightning earned a 100 Beyer in winning the Oaks.

“To me, even though they ran on different days, usually it’s not a good sign for the colts when fillies run faster,” said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Uncle Mo as well as Florida Derby seventh-place finisher Stay Thirsty.

Sunday’s Florida Derby victory was an emotional one for Zito, who continues to marvel at what Dialed In has been able to do in just four starts. In all three of his victories – which included a debut victory against 11 horses going 6 1/2 furlongs at Churchill last November – Dialed In has rallied from last.

“Yesterday, what does he do? He defies the track,” Zito said. “Speed is holding up as you well know. Soldat takes back and [Flashpoint] takes back. The only smart one was” Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford, “and he still comes with his run. Incredible horse, amazing animal; so I’m emotional when it comes to him.”

Zito will be seeking his third Kentucky Derby trophy, having won it in 1991 with the stretch-running Strike the Gold and in 1994 with the forwardly placed Go for Gin.

“If Dialed In can get there the way he is now and stays healthy, he’s going to have a heck of a shot,” Zito said.

Zito said his initial plan is to keep Dialed In at Palm Meadows as long as he can, possibly doing all of his major workouts in Florida before shipping to Churchill Downs a week out. Zito said Dialed In has thrived at Palm Meadows, and he already knows Dialed In can handle Churchill, where he was stabled last fall and where he won his debut last November.

“Right now, that’s the plan,” Zito said.

The plans for the other horses that ran in the Florida Derby are more fluid. Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford, said he would like to run in the Kentucky Derby, but the potential for a lack of graded stakes earnings could keep him out of the race. Shackleford has $212,000 in graded earnings, which may not be enough to get in, barring defections, come entry day.

Romans said he does not plan on running the horse again before May 7.

“Of course we want to run in the Derby, all the connections being from Kentucky,” said Romans, who noted that Shackleford would ship to Churchill on Wednesday. “If we don’t get in, we don’t get in.”

To Honor and Serve, beaten 6 3/4 lengths while third, has enough graded stakes earnings to get into the Derby. The third in the Florida Derby followed an equally uninspiring third in the Fountain of Youth, in which he was also beaten 6 3/4 lengths. Trainer Bill Mott, who admitted to being disappointed by his colt’s race Sunday, said immediately after the race that he was inclined to move on to the Derby.

“I think we’re all leaning in that direction,” said Mott, who trains the horse for Live Oak Plantation. “I think we just need to give it some real thought.”

Soldat, who finished fifth in the Florida Derby as the favorite after winning the Fountain of Youth, appeared to resent getting dirt kicked in his face for the first time and an endoscopic examination revealed dirt in his trachea, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who added that his first inclination is to continue on the Derby trail.

“He came out of the race great, he was pulling the hotwalker around at the test barn,” McLaughlin said. “He wasn’t blowing hard. He didn’t particularly like the trip we had – him or I – but it’s not anybody’s fault.”

Pletcher said he could offer no tangible excuse for Stay Thirsty’s poor effort in the Florida Derby. He said that Stay Thirsty, who won the Grade 3 Gotham earlier this year, would ship to Churchill on Wednesday with the intent of running in the Derby.

While Stay Thirsty leaves for Churchill on Wednesday, Uncle Mo was scheduled to leave for New York on Tuesday. On Saturday, Uncle Mo will be heavily favored to move onto Louisville undefeated when he meets Gotham second- and third-place finishers Norman Asbjornson and Toby’s Corner in the Wood Memorial.

“To me, Uncle Mo’s stock has always been sky high,” Pletcher said. “Saturday, he has to go over and run another big race.”

DRF MORNING LINE: Get out of the gate fast every day - sign up for DRF's free newsletter