02/06/2006 12:00AM

Prospects' trainers brim with optimism

After winning his first start on the main track, the unbeaten Barbaro will be pointed to either the Fountain of Youth or the Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Generals Matz, Pletcher, Brothers, and Zito have happily reported that all their young troops returned safe and sound from Saturday's battles and should be ready to resume the fight for the right to invade Louisville, Ky., on the first Saturday of May.

Barbaro returned well from his three-quarter-length victory over Great Point in the 1 1/8-mile Holy Bull Stakes, said his trainer, Michael Matz, on Monday. The win was the first over the main track for Barbaro and kept his record perfect in four career starts.

"I'm sure there will be some people who'll say he still hasn't answered the question of whether he'll handle dirt because the track was sloppy, but he's a genuinely honest horse who I think will try hard over any surface," said Matz. "Edgar [Prado] said he had plenty of horse and that he galloped out good, so I think he'll be fine on dirt."

Matz said he would probably wait a couple of weeks before making a decision regarding Barbaro's next start.

"We'll see how he's doing before making a final choice, but off the top of my head I'd say he'll run in either one or both of the big races here," said Matz, referring to the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 and the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1. "If we were to decide to skip one, it would likely be the Fountain of Youth."

Todd Pletcher was equally pleased with the way both My Golden Song and Keyed Entry bounced back from their races. My Golden Song finished a game third after being hung wide throughout the Holy Bull. Keyed Entry turned in the most spectacular performance on Saturday's card, upsetting First Samurai while smashing the 7 1/2-furlong track record by more than a full second and earning a 110 Beyer Speed Figure.

"I thought My Golden Song ran a big race considering he had a tough trip and was struggling with the wet track the whole way," said Pletcher. "We'll probably keep him here for the Fountain of Youth. As for Keyed Entry, I'm not ruling out anything at the moment. The Fountain of Youth is possible, and since he's 2 for 2 at Gulfstream I'd like to keep him here. But he ran a very fast race, and if I want to give him more time I can always wait and go to the Rebel."

The $300,000 Rebel will be run March 18 at Oaklawn Park.

First Samurai came back fine from the Hutcheson, according to trainer Frank Brothers, who said that he was pleased despite having to settle for second behind Keyed Entry.

"He ran a good race first time off the bench, although I'd rather he not have run so fast," said Brothers. "We'd like to have won, that's what you're here for, but I'm happy with the horse and, most important, he came back in good order."

Brothers also remained noncommittal about First Samurai's next start.

"It will be two turns but I'm not sure where," said Brothers. "In about a month you can find a race somewhere around two turns for 3-year-olds just about anywhere."

Trainer Nick Zito was delighted with Great Point's second-place finish in the Holy Bull, especially the way his colt rallied from last place over what proved to be a speed- favoring track.

"He had a lot to overcome, and I thought Jeremy [Rose] did a great job," said Zito. "That's the way it goes with these type of races at this time of year. You just hope one or more of your young horses will just jump up with a race like that."

Zito said the Fountain of Youth would be the most logical option for Great Point's next start.

"We'll play it by ear because this was a tough race on him," Zito said, "but obviously if he has a good four weeks the Fountain of Youth is likely the next stop."

Zito's horses all run well

Zito had a good day Saturday even though his only winner came in a maiden race with first-time starter Protagonus, a son of Salt Lake, owned by George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable. Zito also sent out Pies Prospect and Andromeda's Hero, who finished second and third behind Brass Hat's record-setting effort in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, and Superfly, who finished second making his 3-year-old debut in a first-level allowance sprint.

"Pies Prospect is a real warrior, but you've got to salute Brass Hat," said Zito. "Nobody was going to beat him that day. And I'm very excited about George's horse. I know there's some question about how far he'll go being a Salt Lake, but I think he could turn out to be really nice."

Zito was also pleased with Noble Causeway's second-place finish in an allowance race here Sunday. It was the first start for last year's Florida Derby runner-up since he was eased at Saratoga on Aug. 6.

"He had to need that race," Zito said of Sunday's effort. "He should be tough wherever we put him, and his next race is going to be very important."

Laity will be heading out of town

Laity, another of Brothers's top 3-year-old prospects, worked five furlongs in 1:01 here Monday. Laity won the Cradle Stakes at River Downs by nearly a dozen lengths but finished well back in his final two starts at 2.

"He's doing well and needs to get himself back in the game after rolling craps in his last two races," said Brothers. "There's nothing for him here, and I'm not going to Tampa because it might be as tough as it gets up there. We'll probably look at either the Battaglia at Turfway Park or something at Oaklawn."

The race Brothers was referring to at Tampa is the Sam Davis Stakes on Feb. 18, which is expected to draw the Pletcher-trained Bluegrass Cat and the Zito-trained Hesanoldsalt. Both 3-year-olds worked on Monday, Bluegrass Cat going five furlongs in 1:02.80 at Palm Meadows and Hesanoldsalt a half-mile in 48.20 seconds at Gulfstream.