02/06/2008 12:00AM

Peru's champ sets sights on U.S. classics

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Like most jockeys at this time of the year, Edgar Prado is still looking for his Derby horse. And wouldn't it be ironic if the one he found began his racing career in, of all places, Prado's native Peru?

The animal in question is Tomcito, a Kentucky-bred son of Street Cry, who was purchased for a mere $7,500 by trainer and bloodstock agent Dante Zanelli out of the 2006 Keeneland September sale. Tomcito was ultimately shipped to Peru to Zanelli's uncle, Juan Suarez, who has been among the leading trainers in that country for nearly a quarter-century and is one of the men responsible for giving Prado his start in the business nearly 25 years ago.

"Tomcito was a big horse even as a yearling, he stands more than 17 hands now, and looked like the type who would make it over the deeper tracks in Peru," explained Zanelli. "He had a nice body, a long stride, but was a little wide in front and not the prettiest mover, and sometimes people at the sales tend to stay away from that kind."

Tomcito became an instant success in Peru. He won his first two starts at 2, at 5 1/2 and six furlongs, by a combined 26 lengths. He finished a troubled second going a mile in his stakes debut before rebounding to win a pair of Grade 1 races at 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 miles, including Peru's Derby Nacional, accomplishments that earned Tomcito Horse of the Year honors in 2007.

"As a horse bred in the U.S. racing in the Southern Hemisphere, he was actually racing against 3-year-olds as a 2-year-old last year," Zanelli said. "Everything he did was spectacular. He shows great acceleration, which leads you to believe he might be a special horse, although the level of competition is hard to measure in Peru. That's what we'll have to see when he races here - just where he belongs."

Prado, who was in Peru on the day Tomcito suffered his only defeat last October, drove up to the Palm Meadows training center to work the mystery horse a half-mile in 50.60 seconds on Monday.

"He's got a beautiful stride," said Prado, the winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby aboard Barbaro. "Distance certainly won't be a problem for him. I saw the race he got beat, and he was in all sorts of trouble, then came flying at the end. Obviously, the competition will be a lot different once he runs over here, and right now it's probably a little hard for me to predict where he'll fit."

Zanelli said Tomcito's connections are weighing a couple of options for the colt's 3-year-old debut, either the Florida Derby here on March 29 or the UAE Derby in Dubai the same day.

"Right now, the Belmont Stakes is our major destination since we know he can go a mile and one-half and a track like that, with such a long stretch, is obviously to his advantage," Zanelli said. "Naturally, a race like the Kentucky Derby is everybody's dream, so that, too, would certainly be an option if at that time it looks like he would belong."

Meanwhile, at the conclusion of Wednesday's program, Prado remained five wins shy of becoming the 16th jockey in racing history to win 6,000 races.

Bsharpsonata heads Forward Gal

Multiple stakes winner Bsharpsonata and the undefeated Keep the Peace top a field of seven 3-year-old fillies set to go seven furlongs in Saturday's Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes. The field also includes Melissa Jo, runner-up in the Grade 2 Old Hat Stakes here last month, as well as Cozy Mesa, Sensational Love, Cape Cod Lady, and Morakami.

Sunday's card also features the 3-year-old debut of the promising Saratoga Russell, who earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure winning his 2-year-old finale by 7 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct on Dec. 15. Saratoga Russell returns going six furlongs under entry-level allowance conditions.

* Sightseeing worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Gulfstream on Wednesday. Sightseeing, winner of the Peter Pan Stakes and runner-up in the Grade 1 Wood at 3 last year, has not started since finishing fifth in the Brooklyn Handicap. Trainer Shug McGaughey said he has nothing picked out for Sightseeing's return at this time.