12/30/2005 12:00AM

A tale of two top 3-year-olds

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Huntington winner Saint Daimon raises hopes at the Allen Jerkens barn.

MIAMI - First Samurai and Private Vow are two of the three top-rated 3-year-olds in training in south Florida, along with Bluegrass Cat. But it may be a while before the two promising colts actually run against one another this winter.

First Samurai, who won his first four starts, including the Grade 1 Hopeful and Champagne stakes, before finishing third as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is stabled with trainer Frank Brothers at Gulfstream Park. A son of Giant's Causeway, he has already worked several times since arriving in south Florida, his latest breeze a half-mile in 47.60 seconds Friday with Brothers's wife, Donna, in the saddle. Brothers said First Samurai could make his 3-year-old debut in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes on Feb. 4.

Private Vow has won 4 of his last 5 starts, including the Grade 2 Belmont Futurity and Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. His only setback in that span came after jockey John Velazquez's reins broke early in the running of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Private Vow will spend his winter at the Palm Meadows training facility about 45 miles from Gulfstream Park, and according to trainer Steve Asmussen might not begin his 3-year-old campaign until early March.

"We gave him some time off after his last start, and he just went back into training the day after Christmas," Asmussen said. "He probably won't be ready to run until the first week of March."

Jerkens looks to Saint Daimon

Trainer Allen Jerkens, who has a vacuum to fill this year with the recent retirement of Grade 1-winning mare Society Selection, is hoping the 3-year-old Saint Daimon can help ease that loss. A son of Saint Ballado, Saint Daimon closed out his 2-year-old season with a 3 3/4-length victory in Aqueduct's six-furlong Huntington Stakes.

"I might start him in the Aventura here opening weekend," Jerkens said after Saint Daimon worked seven furlongs in 1:26.20 on Friday.

The one-mile Aventura on Jan. 7 is the first leg of the Florida Derby series, which culminates with the $1 million Florida Derby on April 1.

Jerkens also has high hopes for a couple of 3-year-old fillies in his barn, including Diamond Spirit, who ended her 2-year-old campaign with a second-place finish in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Valley Stream Stakes.

Zito barn loaded again

Trainer Nick Zito, whose barn is rarely at a loss for promising 3-year-olds during the Gulfstream meeting, may be loaded again this winter. On Friday at Gulfstream, Zito gave five-furlong works to two of his promising 3-year-olds, Doc Cheney (timed in 1:02.20) and Hemingways Key (1:02.80). Both horses are coming off first-level allowance wins at Calder and are undefeated in two starts.

Zito is also loaded in the handicap division this winter. Andromeda's Hero, who defeated stablemate Seek Gold in Calder's Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap, worked a half-mile in 48.20 on Friday and is among the nominees for the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream on Jan. 7.

For All We Know stays home

Trainer John Ward had originally planned on sending his Grade 2-winning filly For All We Know to California to compete in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita on New Year's Eve. Instead, Ward has decided to keep the Stephen Got Even filly home for the winter.

"She just wasn't coming to hand as quick as I wanted her to," Ward said shortly after For All We Know worked four furlongs in 50.60 Friday at Gulfstream. "It's a long year so there's no sense pressing her now."

With For All We Know remaining in Florida during the winter, Ward will instead ship two of his other talented 4-year-old fillies, Play Ballado and Miss Matched, to California to run in upcoming stakes at Santa Anita.

McPeek visits backstretch

Former trainer-turned-bloodstock agent Ken McPeek visited the Gulfstream backstretch Friday morning. He turned the majority his stable over to his former assistant, Helen Pitts upon retiring this year.

"We've got a house in south Florida, so I'll probably be down all winter," McPeek said. "But people shouldn't think because I'm here that I have anything to do with training these horses anymore. It's Helen's stable now and she's doing fine. But 90 percent of the horses in the barn are horses I purchased, and I'm planning on continuing to buy horses for those clients in the future That's my role now."