08/01/2002 11:00PM

Quest and Nothing Flat, Zito's two late-bloomers

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Nick Zito missing the Kentucky Derby is like the New York Yankees missing the playoffs.

But twice in the last three years Zito has been a spectator for the nation's most prestigious horse race, a race Zito won twice in the early 1990's and one in which he has run 12 horses since 1990. Zito missed this year's Derby because a number of his promising juveniles from a year ago suffered a variety of infirmities.

"A lot of people know us for that reason," Zito said of his two Derby and one Preakness victory. "So it was a little disappointing."

Zito is back in the 3-year-old picture this weekend with a pair of colts who came around too late to be considered for the Triple Crown, but who could be a factor come the Midsummer Derby, the $1 million Travers on Aug. 24.

Zito will find out more about Quest and Nothing Flat in Sunday's $500,000 Jim Dandy, when they take on Medaglia d'Oro in the traditional prep for the Travers.

Quest, a son of Seeking the Gold, did not debut until Feb. 9, when he won a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream. Considering Zito doesn't usually have his horses ready to fire first time out, it was a pretty sharp performance. Zito admitted he ran the horse back too quickly when Quest finished fourth in an entry-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles.

In his third stat, Quest finished third behind Wiseman's Ferry and Sarava, who have subsequently gone on to win the Lone Star Derby and Belmont Stakes, respectively. Quest has since won two allowance races at Belmont.

"He had to be pretty good to win first time out," Zito said. "What I like most about him is he's tough."

After suffering from typical 2-year-old infirmities, Nothing Flat stayed in New York for the winter and he didn't win his maiden until March 30. Realizing Nothing Flat needed two turns, Zito shipped him to Delaware, where he won the Francis "Jock" LaBelle Stakes and finished second to Running Tide in the Leonard Richards. In his most recent start, he finished a fast-closing second to Gygistar in the Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont.

"I like the fact the horse tries all the time," said Zito, who will put Nothing Flat on Lasix for the first time. "The Dwyer was a good race. . . . at least my horse was going the right way at the finish.

"I think it's a solid entry," Zito added. "We got to move up and see if they can run with these horses and try to come up with a Travers horse."

Because it just wouldn't be right if Zito missed another important 3-year-old race.

Gygistar to wait for King's Bishop

After saying all week that Gygistar would run in the Jim Dandy, trainer Mark Hennig changed his mind late Thursday afternoon and decided to skip the race. Instead, Hennig will train Gygistar up to the Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes at seven furlongs on Aug. 24.

Gygistar had gotten sick shortly after winning the Dwyer, and Hennig wanted to see how the horse was doing before making a decision. Last Sunday, Gygistar put in a sensational five-furlong workout, leading Hennig to say that he would probably run.

After three straight days of mid-90 degree temperatures, Hennig said Gygistar "wasn't giving you the feeling he was doing great."

"I came to the realization I was trying to talk myself into running," Hennig said. "His lungs are not totally clean, he's leaving just a little bit of feed and I heard one cough. To do right by him, I need not rush things. I'll take aim at the other race."

Red Bullet to rejoin Orseno

Red Bullet, the 2000 Preakness winner who has not been out since finishing last in the Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 31, is scheduled to van to trainer Joe Orseno's Saratoga barn on Tuesday and be aimed at fall campaign that perhaps will include the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 30.

Red Bullet developed a foot abscess in the Gulfstream Park Handicap and was sent to owner Frank Stronach's Adena Springs Farm in Ocala, Fla., for a freshening. He has been training on the farm for the last several weeks under the tutelage of farm manager Danny Vella.

"It'll be nice to see him again," Orseno said. "We feel like he should have won the Donn and possibly the Skip Away Stakes. We'll get him ready for a fall campaign with the goal being the Cigar Mile."

Orseno said Red Bullet would not be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Classic because Stronach has Macho Uno and/or Milwaukee Brew for that race.

Take Charge Lady readies for fall campaign

Take Charge Lady was regarded among the leaders of the 3-year-old filly division when she was taken out of training shortly after her victory in the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes on May 25. Thursday, she worked four furlongs in 47.95 seconds at Saratoga under exercise rider Lorna Vanderford as she begins gearing up for the second half of her 2002 campaign.

Take Charge Lady, winner of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland and second behind Farda Amiga in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, will be pointed for a three-race fall campaign beginning with the Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap on Sept. 7, followed by the Spinster and concluding with her ultimate goal, the Breeders Cup Distaff.

"There was nothing wrong with her," trainer Ken McPeek explained. "She campaigned hard earlier this year. I could just see her wilting on me if I kept her going beyond that. I knew if I backed off and gave her the summer off I'd have a better filly for the fall."

Sword Dancer rivals work out

With Anticipation worked seven furlongs in 1:25.27 over the Oklahoma turf on Thursday under exercise rider Kate Fitzpatrick as he prepares to defend his title in Saturday's Grade 1 Sword Dancer Handicap.

With Anticipation was a game winner of the 2001 Sword Dancer, contesting all the pace before outlasting King Cugat by three-quarters of a length. He posted his first victory in four starts this season when a neck better than Denon in Monmouth's Grade 1 United Nations Handicap.

"I wanted to let him go long and slow and finish up strong," trainer Jonathan Sheppard said of With Anticipation's work. "I'll work him shorter and quicker on Wednesday. He is just an amazing horse. I'm so proud of him. He appears to be just as sharp now as when he came here for this race last summer."

Denon again figures to be With Anticipation's chief rival in the Sword Dancer. He also worked Thursday, breezing five furlongs in 1:12.87 over the Oklahoma turf.

"The turf course is like a highway," trainer Bobby Frankel said after Denon's work. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he's okay. I'll never forgive myself if he got hurt. He's a very sound horse."

With Anticipation will carry highweight of 120 pounds in the 1 1-2 mile Sword Dancer, two more than Denon. Cetewayo, Craigsteel, Hawkeye, Moon Solitaire, Craigsteel, Startac, Volponi, and Whitmore's Conn are also expected to start.

Miller out of hospital

Blythe Miller was released from Saratoga Hospital on Wednesday evening after suffering a concussion when she was thrown from her mount, Capeless, going over the final jump during the running of Wednesday's first race.

"Blythe's doing fine but will take a little time off to recover from the concussion," said Joe Clancy, director of communications for the United States Steeplechase Association.

- Chimney Slew's victory in Friday's third race ended a dry spell at the meeting for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Before that race, Lukas had been 0 for 12, with three fourth-place finishes. His horses had been beaten a combined 168 lengths. Seven of those horses were sent off at 7-2 or lower.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch