Updated on 09/16/2011 6:58AM

Nokoma has grown to like the track


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Less than two months ago, Nokoma was laboring over the Gulfstream Park racetrack during training hours. On Monday, he flew over the same ground, working five furlongs in 58.20 seconds in his final drill for Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby.

was one of three Florida Derby candidates to work here Monday. Also working for the Florida Derby were High Star, who went five furlongs in 1:01, and D'Coach, who drilled a half-mile in 47.80. Personal Reward, also headed to the Florida Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:02.20 on Sunday.

A field of nine 3-year-olds is likely for the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, including Booklet, Harlan's Holiday, Blue Burner, Puck, and Stephentown.

Nokoma, who finished second by a neck to Saarland in the Remsen in his 2-year-old finale, has started twice at the meet. He finished a well-beaten fourth behind Booklet and Harlan's Holiday in the Holy Bull Stakes Jan. 19 and defeated a good field of preliminary allowance horses five weeks later.

"He worked a bit faster than I really wanted, but the track was pretty quick this morning and that contributed to it," said trainer Todd Pletcher of Monday's work by Nokoma, who is owned by Michael Tabor. "In addition, another horse, I don't know whose it was, broke off to work about 10 lengths in front of us and Nokoma had his sights on him all the way. I didn't train him hard leading up to the Holy Bull, but he's a horse who likes being trained a little bit. I didn't set out to work him in 58, but so far he seems fine. He dove right into his feed tub and if he's okay tomorrow he'll probably be a better horse for it."

High Star's final Florida Derby work was much slower than Nokoma's work, but it pleased trainer Nick Zito.

"He did it happy," Zito said. "Nice and easy. He's ready."

has also started twice here this winter, registering an impressive preliminary allowance victory on Jan. 26 and finishing second, beaten a nose by Mountain Forum, in a slow-paced second-level allowance race Feb. 16.

"He's a tough horse with a lot of talent," Zito said of High Star. "Winning the Florida Derby would be great, but it's just another step, and if he turns in a real good performance Saturday I'll be happy."

Zito was still bristling at the thought of High Star's last race, when it appeared High Star had won but the photo finish camera indicated otherwise.

"That race was a debacle. I just throw the whole thing out," said Zito. "Everyone knows he won the race. Only Gulfstream Park said he didn't."

D'Coach will make his local debut in the Florida Derby. He'll also race for the first time with blinkers on.

"This morning was the first time I worked him in blinkers and he was very sharp," said trainer Shug McGaughey Monday. "The blinkers should help him keep a little closer to the pace and focus better. He made a few mistakes in his other races. In his last start he tried to lay in on the other horse [Smoked Em], jumped off his lead, and lost his momentum."

D'Coach was disqualified from second and placed third for causing interference in the stretch of that race, the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 9. He has yet to cross the finish worse than second in four career starts.

"I still want to see that we should be on this road and not some other road - if we're supposed to be here and not in the Illinois Derby," McGaughey said. "Hopefully we'll get the answer on Saturday."