03/28/2005 12:00AM

Major players' status shaky

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Florida Derby hopeful High Fly spiked a slight fever Friday and missed a weekend workout.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The starting status of two of the key contenders for Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby, High Fly and Closing Argument, remained in question as of Monday after both horses had their final workouts postponed this weekend.

Bandini was also scheduled to breeze Sunday at Palm Meadows but did not work on either Sunday or Monday.

are three of only six starters confirmed for the Grade 1 Florida Derby, the marquee race of the 2005 Gulfstream Park meeting and traditionally one of the most important preps leading up to the Kentucky Derby. It is also the highlight on Saturday's 13-race program, which includes four other stakes.

High Fly came down with a temperature on Friday afternoon, forcing his trainer, Nick Zito, to postpone his work scheduled for the following morning at Palm Meadows. High Fly's stablemate Noble Causeway, who is also pointing for the Florida Derby, did work five furlongs in 1:01 at Palm Meadows on Saturday.

Zito shipped High Fly and Noble Causeway to his Gulfstream Park barn on Sunday. But because of precautions taken at Gulfstream due to an outbreak of strangles at Palm Meadows, where five cases of the highly contagious disease have been confirmed, neither Kentucky Derby hopeful is permitted on the track until after regular training hours are over.

High Fly's temperature was a normal 99 degrees on Monday, Zito said. Zito sent out High Fly, the Fountain of Youth winner, to gallop at 10:15 a.m. Monday morning. He was the only horse on the track at the time. Noble Causeway galloped several minutes later. Afterward, Zito said he planned to work High Fly on Tuesday.

"We'll see what happens tomorrow," said Zito on Monday. "If he has a good work and a clean bill of health, the rest of the week we'll be okay. He's a very fit horse. If not, then we'll go to plan B - although I don't quite know what plan B is at the moment.

"Right now I'm in a positive mood, and the weather will be a big factor since we cannot get on the track until so late in the morning. Fortunately, we've gotten a break from the heat and there is no humidity, so that helps."

Zito emphasized that the owners of both horses, Live Oak Plantation for High Fly and My Meadowview Farms for Noble Causeway, have been understanding of the problems and inconveniences their horses have encountered the past several days. "Both owners have been great and that takes a lot of the pressure off me," said Zito.

Meanwhile, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he postponed Closing Argument's workout Monday "to buy one more day."

Closing Argument, a son of Successful Appeal owned by Phillip and Marcia Cohen, has not started since winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5 - the race in which High Fly suffered his only loss in five career starts.

"He's got a tiny bit of a situation and I'm trying to get through it," said McLaughlin, declining to be more specific. "I should probably know Tuesday morning whether we'll be all right. But at this point, I'm not sure whether we're going to make the race on Saturday or not."

Along with High Fly, Closing Argument, Bandini, and Noble Causeway, only B.B. Best and Papi Chullo are listed as confirmed starters by the Gulfstream Park racing office. Entries for the Florida Derby will be drawn on Wednesday.