Updated on 09/16/2011 7:01AM

Mass exodus of horses begins


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Horse vans will begin rolling out the stable gate in earnest over the next two weeks as New York- and Kentucky-based horsemen head home after another winter in south Florida.

Among the first to vacate the premises will be trainers Pat Byrne and Nick Zito.

Byrne is heading north on a high after Ethan Man's huge performance in last Saturday's Swale Stakes. Zito had an outstanding winter meet but leaves with a bit of a sour taste after his main Kentucky Derby hopeful, High Star, bled in the Florida Derby.

"It was certainly disappointing," Zito said. "I don't know if he [High Star] would have beaten Harlan's Holiday or not, the winner certainly ran an outstanding race, but I think we would have been second if he hadn't bled.

"The plan for the moment is to get him better first and go from there," he added. "It's just bad timing for this kind of thing to happen now."

Zito will head north a lot earlier this season than he has in past winters when he was stabled at Hialeah.

"We ran a lot of horses here during the meet and they are tired," said Zito. "And we've got a whole year to think about in New York."

Byrne will ship out Friday for Churchill Downs, where he will continue to prepare Ethan Man for his next start, either in the Blue Grass or Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

"About the only thing I can say for certain about the Derby at this point is that they will definitely need the auxiliary gate," Byrne said.

Trainer Tony Reinstedler was pleased with the performance of Peekskill, who finished third as the longest price on the board in the Florida Derby.

"I thought he deserved a chance to run in the race and he proved it," said Reinstedler. "Now we'll just see what sorts out. He'll run in one of the Derby preps. He's nominated to everything."

Peekskill's more publicized stablemate Stephentown was forced out of the Florida Derby at the last minute by a minor shoulder injury.

"He went back to the track for the first time on Monday and trained well," Reinstedler said of Stephentown. "It looks like he just jammed his shoulder and it took me a few more days than I'd originally expected to get him back 100 percent sound."

Hennig eyes several stakes

Trainer Mark Hennig has several local stakes still on his agenda before he vacates the premises later this spring.

First up for Hennig will be Saturday's $200,000 Pan American Handicap, in which he will send out Drama Critic in a small field that includes Cetewayo and Whata Brainstorm. Drama Critic finished seventh, beaten nearly eight lengths by Cetewayo, in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap on Feb. 16.

"As long as the turf course stays decent I'll run Drama Critic on Saturday," said Hennig. "The course was halfway wet and had a lot of pockets in it and he didn't seem to handle it real well in his last race."

Hennig may also enter Tap Dance in Sunday's $200,000 Orchid Handicap. The Orchid, like the Pan Am, is carded at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. Tap Dance is winless in four starts on grass, although she did finish fourth, beaten just over three lengths by Snow Dance, in the Suwannee River Handicap earlier this month.

If he passes the Orchid, Hennig said he may enter both Tap Dance and Mystic Lady in the $75,000 Banshee Breeze Handicap on April 5. He also has Istintaj as a potential starter in the $100,000 Artax Handicap the following day.

Hennig reported that Personal Reward, who finished last of 11 in the Florida Derby, came out of the race a bit "stoved up" and has no plans for either him or his other Florida Derby starter, Monthir.

* Although Gulfstream Park was closed for both racing and simulcasting on Monday and Tuesday, management has announced it will inaugurate dark-day simulcasting beginning next Monday and Tuesday. The dark day simulcasts will continue through April 23. Admission and parking for the dark-day simulcasts will be free.